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Tell Me How to Be: A Novel Hardcover – Dec 7 2021
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* INAUGURAL LILLY'S LIBRARY BOOK CLUB PICK FROM LILLY SINGH *
“My first great read of 2022…[Will] make you cringe with recognition and melt with longing.” ―Jennifer Weiner
From rising star Neel Patel (“refreshing…defiant…consistently surprising” --New York Times), a darkly funny and heartbreaking debut novel about an Indian-American family confronting the secrets between them
Renu Amin always seemed perfect: doting husband, beautiful house, healthy sons. But as the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death approaches, Renu is binge-watching soap operas and simmering with old resentments. She can’t stop wondering if, thirty-five years ago, she chose the wrong life. In Los Angeles, her son, Akash, has everything he ever wanted, but as he tries to kickstart his songwriting career and commit to his boyfriend, he is haunted by the painful memories he fled a decade ago. When his mother tells him she is selling the family home, Akash returns to Illinois, hoping to finally say goodbye and move on.
Together, Renu and Akash pack up the house, retreating further into the secrets that stand between them. Renu sends an innocent Facebook message to the man she almost married, sparking an emotional affair that calls into question everything she thought she knew about herself. Akash slips back into bad habits as he confronts his darkest secrets―including what really happened between him and the first boy who broke his heart. 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, between making each other happy and setting themselves free.
By turns irreverent and tender, filled with the beats of ’90s R&B, Tell Me How to Be is about our earliest betrayals and the cost of reconciliation. But most of all, it is the love story of a mother and son each trying to figure out how to be in the world.
Praise for Tell Me How To Be:
A Lilly's Library Book Club Pick from Lilly Singh
A Most Anticipated Book (The TODAY Show, Good Morning America, Harper’s Bazaar, Reader’s Digest, Business Insider, The Millions, Lambda Literary, Goodreads, PopSugar, Bustle, Chicago Review of Books, LGBTQ Reads, Alta, Apartment Therapy)
“A beautiful book about a mother and son…I really loved this book.”
―Rumaan Alam on The TODAY Show
“Patel infuses Tell Me How to Be with a lively self-awareness, humor and warmth… Mother and son share a love of guilty pleasures in a novel that asks: When you find the melody that speaks to you, why let it go?”
―New York Times Book Review
"If you want your heart broken open, Neel Patel’s Tell Me How to Be, about an immigrant mother still longing for the man she left behind, and her mostly closeted son still struggling with his own desires, is perfection."
―Jennifer Weiner, USA Today
“If you like stories about families coming to terms with long-held secrets, Patel’s self-assured debut should be on your radar.”
“This debut novel about an Indian-American family has all the right ingredients: family secrets, love, sexuality, loss, identity questions and remorse.”
―Good Morning America
“Poignant…Fresh…Soulful and convincing.”
"A moving saga of identity and reconciliation."
“In this soulful, moody novel, Patel shows how Akash and Renu suffer from the impossibility of emotional honesty within their Indian immigrant community in the Midwest, its norms enforced by gossip and social snubs.”
―The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Both irreverent and tender, this story of a recently widowed mother and grown son going through the motions of selling the family home, each trying to figure out how to best make each other happy while learning to accept their mistakes and each other, is a love story at its heart.”
“Generous and soulful…As enveloping and warm as a long-overdue hug from a loved one, and written in accessible, dynamic prose, it’d make a perfect last-minute holiday gift for any son to give a mother, and read for themselves, too.”
―Chicago Review of Books
“Tell Me How to Be is a quietly wise novel, a love song to families, however imperfect they may be, as well as a tender and fierce celebration of queerness. It’s a lot of books in one, and each one is a knockout.”
―Alta Journal of California
―“A funny and moving story about forgiveness and learning to move forward.”
“Patel's well-drawn characters and richly metaphorical style carry the reader along.”
―New York Journal of Books
“Neel Patel’s gorgeous debut novel flows so seamlessly that you hardly notice you’re reading it; it feels more like you’re simply existing with his characters.”
“Readers who enjoyed Nadia Hashimi’s Sparks Like Stars and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections will enjoy similar complicated family dynamics and needing to read between the lines of what is being said to get at what is meant. Highly recommend to anyone keeping secrets from their families.”
―ALA Rainbow Round Table
“A funny, yet heartbreaking story of a mother and son grappling with grief and moving on from the past together.”
“This excellent debut novel explores themes of love, betrayal, and reconciliation in a modern, funny and tender way that is sure to make it a readers’ favorite in 2022.”
―The San Diego Union Tribune
“While the novel does offer wry and dark comedic takes on what it means to be a modern family, it is more accurately a beautifully and carefully crafted chronicle of characters in search of one another, triangulating their past with their present in an ongoing attempt to fully see and be seen.”
―West Trade Review
“[A] resplendent debut…Patel skillfully maneuvers through the treacherous territory of abandoned dreams, family squabbles, and cultural clashes before finding a resounding catharsis for mother and son. The result is noteworthy and memorable.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Emotionally rich…A winner for book clubs and those who enjoy a little heartstring pulling.”
“Strong characters and a sharp depiction of familial secrets.”
“Once in a while there comes a book that reminds us of why we read: to feel, to question, to grow. This is that book. A love letter to R&B, youth, and the unforgettable agonies of one’s first love. The emotional truth of this indelibly portrayed family and their messy lives will leave you weeping and shattered. I will read everything Neel Patel writes from here on.”
―Susie Yang, New York Times bestselling author of White Ivy
“Tell Me How to Be is daring, hilarious, poignant, and impossible to put down. Neel Patel is a fabulous storyteller!”
―Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
“A soulful and seductive love song of a book, Tell Me How to Be is a keen and sharply hilarious celebration of the universal messiness of desire and the necessity of coming clean first with ourselves. I laughed out loud at the prickliness of Renu and ached for Akash through the book's careful unfurling of the past. In this examination of identity through yearning and loss and the enduring consequences of denial, Patel has crafted an unforgettable duet between mother and son.”
―Nancy Jooyoun Kim, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Story of Mina Lee
“I loved Tell Me How to Be’s story of family, first love, and figuring out your place in the world. Neel's writing is vulnerable, authentic and entertaining. This book gives a fresh perspective to complicated family relationships…something everyone can relate to.”
―Lilly Singh, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be a Bawse
“Neel Patel’s compelling first novel tells a story that is sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing, and, by the end, deeply moving. Tell Me How to Be explores the high price of secrets, deceit, and regret and the redemptive power of speaking one’s truth. Patel’s short chapters, immensely readable prose, and talent for continually raising the stakes for his complicated characters kept me turning the pages late into the night. A memorable debut.”
―Stephen McCauley, author of My Ex-Life
"Immersive, seductive and elegant, this novel shimmers richly on the surface, even as its depths pulse with potent heartbreak and loss."
―Mahesh Rao, author of Polite Society
Praise for If You See Me, Don't Say Hi:
“Patel upends what we think the experience of Indians in America looks like. It’s about time.” ―Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind
“Refreshing…Defiant…Consistently surprising.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Patel writes with the wisdom and compassion of an old soul.” ―Celeste Ng, New York Times bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere
“Surprising, funny…Brave…A reminder that messiness makes the human experience beautiful.” ―NPR
“A joy to read, reminiscent of Jhumpa Lahiri and David Ebershoff. What exquisite writing. What a tremendous talent.” ―Imbolo Mbue, New York Times bestselling author of Behold the Dreamers
“Patel turns his lens on Indian-Americans, addressing with depth and care subjects that are often overlooked or made into caricature.” ―Vanity Fair
“Neel Patel upends stereotypes, especially Indian-American masculinity. He’s at his most remarkable when illuminating the experience of queer men making sense of their sexuality, and allowing themselves to hope for a happy ending.” ―BuzzFeed
“Patel will make you laugh, then cry, then feel uncomfortable, then feel free, all within a few pages.” ―Scaachi Koul, author of One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matte
About the Author
- Publisher : Flatiron Books (Dec 7 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250184975
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250184979
- Item weight : 408 g
- Dimensions : 14.35 x 2.88 x 21.62 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #232,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from other countries
Told through the lens of Renu the mom and Akash the son you are transported from London to America to Tanzania and India. This is a story of love, family & belonging.
Just be prepared for the sobbing this book does pull at the heart strings but I loved it.
This is a Gujarati-American family drama told from the perspectives of Renu, a woman mourning the recent death of her husband, and Akash, her younger son.
I had high hopes for this book given the amount of pre-release praise it received. It seemed like something in the vein of "A Place for Us", one of my favorite books.
However, I was highly disappointed because the book appears half-finished. There are a LOT of flashbacks about the backstories of the major characters, which takes up more than half of the book. The present-day storyline only covers a few days, and everything wraps up too quickly by the end. A few characters have "breakthrough" moments, but have not seriously addressed their underlying issues.
One of the major plot points regarding Renu's backstory with Kareem that comes into the present day is also not explained thoroughly, and simply ends without much of a resolution.
This book is only ~300 pages, and would have benefited from being double the length. I would have also appreciated perspective chapters from other characters such as Kareem, Ashok, and Bijal.
Overall, it is a quick but unsatisfying read.
Both mother and son have secrets. The mother was railroaded into an arranged marriage 30+ years ago, Her husband, who loved his unhappy wife dearly, has just died, and she has decided to move back to London. She hopes to find her long-lost true love, Kareem. (This is not a spoiler; all this is revealed at the outset of the story.) Akash, by contrast, has a man who loves him, but he can no more remain faithful than he can remain sober. Akash has a particularly nasty habit of getting smashed and acting out at major family events, to the fury of his older brother - who is, on the surface, the model son. Who also has secrets.
Gathered in their rapidly emptying family home, a McMansion on a cul-de-sac, the two brothers and their mother struggle to connect before she leaves this house and the US.
The touchstones of culture play a huge role in the unfolding of the story. Renu, the mother, has played by the rules imposed by her parents and her husband, and has ended up bitter. Akash, after years of struggle, has burned almost every bridge imaginable, with family, friends, lovers, and business partners.
There are plot twists galore in this small but intricate story of a family whose every member seems somehow alienated from themselves and each other.
A terrifically engaging first novel.