Book Review for “Somebody Loves You” by Mona Arshi.
Summary: “Ruby gives up talking at a young age. Her mother isn’t always there to notice; she comes and goes and goes and comes, until, one day, she doesn’t. Silence becomes Ruby’s refuge, sheltering her from the weather of her mother’s mental illness and a pressurized suburban atmosphere.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary, England; Other Categories: Novella, #OwnVoices, Diverse Authors, Coming of Age, Fictional Memoir.
I should admit that I’ve seen, but never tried, any books on NetGalley or Edelweiss which I could download directly – you know, the kind you don’t have to ask for approval before you can read. If that makes me a snob, then I’m guilty of snobbery. However, this time I did. See, lately I’ve been getting more denials on these sites and that’s how I found myself with a reading window. Yeah, I could have read some back list books that I’d bought on sale a while back, but I decided to check to see if any of these books might strike my fancy, especially any short ones for Novellas in November. Well, most of them looked like crap, but this one caught my eye, so I figured, what the heck and downloaded it on the spot. Good thing, too, because I’m thrilled that I’ve discovered this little gem.
The thing I found most interesting here was that the book starts out as fairly short vignettes and then, as the narrator grows throughout the story, the episodes she recounts become longer and more detailed. I’d probably even venture to say that watching Ruby grow really was fascinating, and a stroke of genius. You see, Arshi slowly adjusts Ruby’s voice to match her age, and I don’t recall reading anything like this before. I mean, usually a main character changes (at least to a certain extent) from the beginning of a book, but here Ruby remains pretty constant in her personality, as she ages. However, at the same time, Ruby emotionally ‘comes of age’ in this novella, with her language and observations becoming more sophisticated with the passage of time. This might not make sense, but that’s the best I can do, I’m afraid.
Hearing this, you might think that this book is meant for the YA crowd, but I’d have to disagree. Yes, coming-of-age novels featuring a younger protagonist are usually written for a younger audience. Despite that, I really don’t think that this is a book that was written for anyone but adults, but I can see where it could be very appealing to them. What I mean by this is that while Arshi’s prose is not all that poetic (which was a bit of a surprise, because Arshi is an award-winning poet), it has a gently expressive style, and it shows much (MUCH) more than it tells. I personally believe that more experienced readers will get a whole lot out of this book, but I have a feeling that the subtleties here might be missed by a younger audience. That’s not to say that this couldn’t be read by teenagers, but that I don’t think they’ll fully get what Arshi is trying to say here. Again, I’m not sure if I’m making much sense here, but that’s how I feel.
The one thing that I felt was a bit missing here was the sense that this is an #OwnVoices novel. Arshi, although born in England, is from a South Asian family (India, I believe), but this doesn’t come through all that much in this novella. In fact, although we understand that Ruby lives in a multi-racial neighborhood, Ruby’s race doesn’t come into the story all that much. Yes, it is referred to here and there, but I get the feeling that Arshi was trying to say that Ruby’s race was there; it was what she was… but it wasn’t who Ruby was; Ruby’s self-imposed silence and keen observations were the things that were foremost in Ruby’s life, and that’s what made her who she was. I know that sounds a bit profound, and philosophical, but for me, it was more of a level of self-awareness and honesty about which I could certainly relate.
Overall, this is a very good story, and I really felt for Ruby and the problems she has, which, as I said, are only slightly related to her being non-white in a country that has been showing its racism and xenophobia so clearly these past few years. As a debut novella, it certainly has a lot going for it. If I see another work of fiction by Arshi on a list, I’ll be positively inclined to read it. For all of this, I am recommending it; it is a fast read and Arshi is a talented writer, but I was expecting a touch more poetry than I got here. I think, therefore, I’ll give this a very health four out of five stars.
And Other Stories will release “Somebody Loves You” by Mona Arshi on November 16, 2021. This book is (or will be) available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and The Book Depository US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for the ARC of this novel from Edelweiss.