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, 35 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.
Patel’s facility with perspective—seamless shifts between male and female voices, between straight and queer relationships—stands out in his debut novel. Each narrator’s commentary credibly reflects personal identity and underscores the novel’s themes, which often circle around the gap between what one longs for and what one possesses ... The key to his deft characterization is Patel’s remarkable facility for dialogue ... Neel Patel’s debut presses readers to consider how the masks that his characters wear—whether to camouflage or broadcast their belonging—influence their capacity for happiness; then, he presents situations in which those masks are dropped or removed ... Tell Me How to Be resides in asking rather than telling, designed to satisfy readers who prioritize questions over answers.
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 ... An emotionally layered family saga about cultural identity, first love, grief and the power of second chances, it’s a painful, funny and ultimately redemptive story ... Both Akash and Renu narrate in the second person ... It’s an elegant narrative device that never feels cliched or contrived ... This is a rich story that’s as vivid and surprising as its characters ... Renu is observant, bitingly funny and deeply caring. Akash is morose and impulsive; his pain often feels claustrophobic, while his love of music comes across as buoyant and joyful ... Tell Me How to Be is a contemporary family story that captures all the contradictions and challenges of 21st-century life. It’s a rare treat to watch Renu and Akash navigate such tumultuous change—and come out stronger on the other side.
Tell Me How to Be is a book of full of longing and regret, like the R&B ballads Akash labors to create ... 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. There's an inherent forgiveness in the two-narrator structure of this novel, recognizing that people who've made life difficult for others are themselves laboring under the burdens of their own thwarted hopes. Patel charts Akash and Renu's quests, separate, but ultimately intertwined, to express the truth, leave bitterness behind, and finally become free.