My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Time taken to read - < 2 days
Pages - 336
Publisher - Trapeze books
Source - Review copy
Blurb 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.
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.
Growing up in a family where expectations and traditions are set, your brother is everything to make the parents proud and you seem to always be the opposite. You can be your true self, your career is a disappointment - you just want to write songs and you have a secret that is tearing you apart. That is Akash, never measuring up to family expectations, hiding his sexuality, shamed and his internal war causing addictions and destructive behaviour.
The book splits between the view points of Akash and his mum Renu, after his fathers sudden death she is finding herself in a strange new life. She can do what she wants and Renu has her own guilt and secrets. With opportunity and freedom she looks up her old flame but can a widow, with expectations really follow her heart after all these years?
The book is really emotive. I felt for Akash, I got annoyed at him, I felt sad for him, I wanted to hug him, I wanted to slap him. Self destructive behaviour, lashing out, hiding behind a façade and struggling between who he is and who he appears to be for his family. They both, Akash and Renu visit back to their past and secrets that have plagued them and impacted on who they are and actions to the present predicaments they find themselves in.
Again with Renu, I fist pumped the air at one point GO GIRL then another I wanted to slap her for her cruel mouth. As you learn more about both complex characters you understand a bit more about why they are the way they are now, in the present. Woven throughout the book we have lyrics and music from the 90's some I knew and had a wee bit of nostalgia, some I had to ask Alexa to play.
I also liked learning a bit about Akash and Renu's culture, I was often putting the book down to google stuff and I do enjoy when a book gives you a chance to learn a bit more like this. the book features a lot of themes, as I said it is emotive. A gay man having to suppress who he is and the negative impact that has on him, sexuality, sex, love, relationships and Renu, how an arranged marriage impacted so heavily on her life, outlook. What it is like living where she is as a married woman, how the locals treat her and how things are different now she is a widow.
I could go on and on about this book to be honest, it has a very raw and human feel to it, things you like about them, things you don't, how they behave, react, act, family/relationship issues and of course the old actions and consequences. This is my first time reading this author, it won't be my last 4/5 for me this time.