Thursday, September 29, 2022

Sara Nisha Adams - The Reading List

Widower Mukesh lives a quiet life in Wembley, in West London after losing his beloved wife. He shops every Wednesday, goes to Temple, and worries about his granddaughter, Priya, who hides in her room reading while he spends his evenings watching nature documentaries.
Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager working at the local library for the summer when she discovers a crumpled-up piece of paper in the back of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a list of novels that she’s never heard of before. Intrigued, and a little bored with her slow job at the checkout desk, she impulsively decides to read every book on the list, one after the other. As each story gives up its magic, the books transport Aleisha from the painful realities she’s facing at home.
When Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to forge a connection with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha passes along the reading list…hoping that it will be a lifeline for him too. Slowly, the shared books create a connection between two lonely souls, as fiction helps them escape their grief and everyday troubles and find joy again.

Comment: I've decided to add this book to my TBR because it would be a book featuring a library and that means, obviously, book talk!

In this book we meet young Aleisha, who is annoyed to only have gotten a summer job at a library instead of in the trendy shops like her friends. She feels alone and forgotten, especially because she lives with her mother and brother and her mother is facing some issues, namely a huge depression. Her brother has been quite busy and the contact with their father, who remarried, is very sporadic. The day after she is rude to an old man who wanted a recommendation, she feels she needs to change and randomly finding a reading list between the pages of a book is what she needed.
Mukesh is feeling adrift since his wife died. His daughters keep in touch all the time but it isn't the same anymore. One day he finds a book his wife read and loved and he decides to return it to the library after reading it himself. The young lady doesn't seem welcoming but he is surprised when, sometimes later, she tries to make amends by suggesting him a list of books. This sparks a new friendship for them, but their personal lives certainly aren't easy... 
Can these new thoughts and their conversations on books help them overcome impossible situations they didn't expect to go through?

This is the author's debut and it has received a lot of praise. I see why, because the writing feels quite mature and the story has many appealing elements, namely the conversations about books and the use of specific titles to advance certain ideas on this story. This tells me the author not only read the books referenced but wanted to use them as an important part of this plot, which is always such a treat for any book lover.

In fact, the book talk was definitely my favorite part of the story and I had a great time anticipating what characters would think while reading this and that novel and it helped a lot that I have read most of the books mentioned myself. In the beginning, and as the first pages went on, I thought the book would be about the two main characters' journey and how the love of books would bring them together so they could help save the library, which we are told has had difficulties and might be closed one day.

However, the tone of this book seemed to change from situation to situation, in particular when it came to Aleisha's mother. She seemed to have been portrayed as dealing with depression - never was this word used to diagnose her, I only infer from her behavior - and in part, that was because Aleisha's father left them to be with someone else and he has a new family. I did wonder if Aleisha's mother was a "tool" to show her she would need to do her own path or that perhaps she would need to help her mother and the novels would have some sort of "moral lesson" which would be the turning point for their family life.

Mukesh' side of the story is sad in parts too, he lost his beloved wife and feels too lonely. He is clearly of Indian origin and there are many references to cultural aspects, namely how he is sen by being friends with another older woman, who used to be his wife's friend. They are good companions and I don't think there's any hint they would be more than that but people in their community talk. I found this interesting and not that different from any other cultural background but I confess I was more focused on what kind of opinion Mukesh would have on the books he was reading and what they meant for him.

Although this might not be the best percentage, I'd say that until 70 or 75% of the novel, this was generic enough to make me happy about the book talk, but especially  Aleisha's life at home was stressed out enough to suggest something wasn't quite right. At that moment, something huge happens and the tone becomes way darker, in the sense, more importance is given to the plot points and not as much the reading list and the experience the main characters were having. I still can't really explain why the author might have decided to use that situation but, no matter how realistic and emotional, I was still caught by surprise by how dark it was, I really imagined the idea would be to take the characters in a more hopeful path towards the end.

After some complicated scenes, situations, chapters, the focus goes back to help the library and Aleisha and Mukesh once more join forces, with other library members, to do something so that everyone can see the importance of the library and how it makes a difference in many people's lives, even if the numbers themselves seem low. I obviously liked this as a way to sort of take the story to its end, but what had happened before affected my enjoyment. I suppose that was the goal but... I think the two main subjects (which I now feel this second huge event ended up being, along with the save the library thing) don't mesh that easily and I feel the story became too dramatic and complicated so quickly.

The last part of the story solves many loose points but I confess I don't find that to be uplifting, as I imagined it could be, considering how Aleisha and Mukesh, from different generations found common ground in books and how they can be timeless in how different people can like or dislike the same books for the same reasons. I think the big event sent the wrong message in what it meant for the ones immediately affected by it. I think it seemed as if it solved some things when it shouldn't be necessary for the author to rely on that for those reasons.

I still think of this book with a positive ratio because of the book conversation and how reading helped Mukesh, in particular, so much after the loss of his wife of so many years. Reading has opened a new world for him, where he can find a connection to new things instead of just staying home feeling lonely. But Aleisha's story line didn't feel as well accomplished for me.
Grade: 7/10

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