In a sea of high achieving Indian American kids in Hammond Creek Georgia, Neil is average. He struggles to succeed at school and seems to be a constant disappointment to his family’s ambitions. Until he discovers his friend Anita’s plot to use an ancient potion made of stolen gold to steal the ambitions of the gold’s owner. After a terrible tragedy, Neil experiences a deep depression that carries into his adult life in a myriad of ways. When they are reunited years later, Neil and Anita grapple with the actions of their past and contemplate returning to their old ways, regardless of the consequences.
This is a satirical coming-of-age story with a good dose of magical realism woven into the plot. I’ve been mulling over this review for a week now and find it so hard! There are two distinct parts to this story. The first part follows Neil and Anita when they are in high school and I found this story to be entertaining and thoughtful. Neil and Anita are struggling with the weight of parental and personal expectations, and find that they need to steal the ambition of others to meet those expectations. It’s easy to relate to those feelings, even while recognizing the harm they are causing. The climax of this section was heartwrenching and has lasting repercussions in both Neil and Anita’s lives.
The second part forwards into adulthood, with Neil working on his thesis for grad school and Anita searching for a job after leaving a tech company. I did not love this section of the story and I think it’s because neither Neil or Anita are likable characters. When they’re young, it’s easy to understand and relate to their emotions. But, when they’re older and still struggling with the same feelings, I found that I was less sympathetic. When they begin planning to steal gold again as an adult, even knowing the terrible tragedy they may have caused by doing this, I began to actively dislike the characters. I felt the story went off the rails a bit towards the end, and almost feel like I would have enjoyed the book more if it was only the first part.
The writing is dazzling. Sathian blends humor and emotion really thoughtfully and manages to create a fast-paced story without needing a lot of action. The elements of mystery and magic are beautifully woven into the story and she pulls in elements from romance, heist novels, and historical fiction. It’s an interesting blend of themes and tropes which made me keep reading and ultimately enjoy the story, even though I did not like any of the characters.
So, I’m torn on this book. It features beautiful writing and a fascinating concept, but with frustrating, unlikable characters. If you’ve read this book, do let me know your thoughts!
[CW: suicide, drugs, anxiety, depression, bullying, eating disorder]