Bhat’s novel place[s] an emphasis on breadth over depth ... The novel is a yearbook extending long past the awkward years of adolescence, and as Nina develops an awareness of the world around herself, the novel sprawls out of control as seemingly discrete events overlap one another and lead us to wonder if there is a plan to the madness ... Structurally the novel resembles a short story collection, the book broadly divided into two parts with each snapshot of Nina’s life given a title and its own narrative arc. But rather than picking and choosing individual snapshots that stand out above the rest, it is clear that Nina’s voice gains strength over the years ... Perhaps the strongest sections of the novel are the ones that highlight Nina’s many identities ... These identities, like the sections of the book itself, overlap and crash against one another. Nina is nothing if not real. Her self-centeredness is hard to swallow but easy to consume; there is a palpable familiarity there ... I came to The Most Precious Substance on Earth for a character study, and a character study was what I received—one stretched by the length of decades, rather than homing in on a specific era or time, but a character study all the same. Nina frustrates, humors, horrifies, and exhilarates in the scope of these pages. Reading her life on the page, though fictional, feels voyeuristic in that dusty-yearbook way, and ultimately I truly lost myself in the spectatorship.
With the smooth suspense of a novel and the openness of a journal, Bhat’s writing is transportive as it pops from one major event to the next ... The vignettes reflect Nina’s growth through the writing’s voice and style. Early chapters use funky metaphors and chunks of context overflowing with detail. Later chapters are blunt, describing bare facts of events and allowing the gut-wrenching sorrow of mistakes, failures and regrets to live between the lines of the text. It’s tough to tell which is a worse feeling — or perhaps better captured — but the entire novel is deeply effective and moving ... Both profound and meaningless. True to life, there is no great moral. The book is neither tragic nor triumphant. Baht’s novel is a slice of life that will either ring eerily true, or be a highly educational experience in empathy.
Potent ... . Savvy readers will realize early that Bhat's narrative is no easy read, but committed audiences will also parse, appreciate and retain what Nina has curated as 'a gallery of only good things.'
Bhat captures the moods of each stage of Nina’s life as she moves from high school to grad school to her working and dating life. Youthful curiosity, the desire to be cool, the self-focus of teenagers, and the ensuing period of self-doubt and a quest for life’s purpose are universal. Bhat succeeds admirably and enjoyably in balancing dramatic moments and comic asides while maintaining the emotional integrity of a character grappling with confusing contexts.
Bhat balances humor and pathos in this savvy coming-of-age story ... The ending feels a bit open, but Bhat offers memorable prose...and does an exceptional job revealing the turmoil under Nina’s placid facade as she navigates dating, socializing, and the downward trajectory of her career. It adds up to a bold statement about the impact of a young woman’s trauma.
Candid ... Bhat approaches her weighty subject matter with grace and humor and, in doing so, finds a way of exploring trauma that is both realistic and tender ... An empowering and liberatory coming-of-age novel for 'the girls who stay quiet.'