Tell Me How to Be
It’s been awhile since I have read a book that completely immersed me and Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel sucked me in and refused to let me go. I have had this one on my list for awhile, but my friend Daina @dai2daireader hosted a buddy read for her book club @unburdenyourshelvesbookclub. Buddy reads are the perfect motivation to check some books off your #tbr. The discussion was fabulous and helped me dissect my complex feelings for this book. General consensus was that everyone really enjoyed this story.
(From Goodreads) Lost in the jungle of Los Angeles, Akash Amin is filled with shame. Shame for liking men. Shame for wanting to be a songwriter. Shame for not being like his perfect brother. Shame for his alcoholism. And most of all, shame for what happened with the first boy he ever loved. When his mother tells him she is selling the family home, Akash must return to Illinois to confront his demons and the painful memory of a sexual awakening that became a nightmare.
Akash's mum, Renu, is also plagued by guilt. She had it all: doting husband, beautiful house, healthy sons. But as the one-year anniversary of her husband's death approaches Renu can't stop wondering if she chose the wrong life thirty-five years ago and should have stayed in London with her first love.
Together, Renu and Akash pack up the house, retreating further into the secrets that stand between them. When their pasts catch up to them, Renu and Akash must decide between the lives they left behind and the ones they've since created.
I am a sucker for nostalgia and music played a huge role in my teenage years. I often imagined certain songs were written for me and were the soundtrack to my life, much like Akash. The aspect of romanticizing memories of first love had me sickly nostalgic for those teenage hormones. I swear I heard Ashanti in my head the entire time I read this book.
Told from alternating perspectives of mother and son, Tell Me How to Be dives into some heavy themes of shame and guilt, sexuality, family obligations and cultural expectations, and life choices. I don't think any of us can say we have never thought back to major life decisions and wondered where we would be if we had made different decisions. Reading Renu and Akash reclaim their lives was like watching spring flowers blooming after a long, cold winter. I couldn't get enough. I was transported by the R&B soundtrack of their lives.
The ending does come together rather quickly and cleanly, with some things glossed over and unrealistically resolved, but it did not make me love this book any less. With short chapters and alternating perspectives, this book read incredibly quick. I think it's safe to say Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel is added to my list of favorite reads of 2023. And that's some high praise!
Content warning: homophobia, alcoholism
4.5 - 5 stars
“Do you know what it’s like to have so much love inside you and no one to give it to? To be the vessel of unwanted light? My father said even the sweetest things turn sour if there’s no one to consume them. Jewels tarnish. Flowers die. Fruit goes rotten. Love turns to bitterness and hatred and rage.”
“You came into my life and rimmed it with gold. Everything was more bearable with you by my side.”