A People's History of Heaven

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

This is a story about  about love and friendship and fighting for the people and places we love.  Lyrical and ,full of life.  Very moving and celebratory story of girls on the "cusp of adulthood who find joy just in the basic act of living."
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I read this as background reading for a First Impressions Promotion we ran on BookBrowse, as booked by Debra Linn, Personally, I enjoyed it -- and you can see our member-reviewer's comments at https://www.bookbrowse.com/arc/arc_reviews/ They rated it 4.2 stars
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This book took me by storm and I was immediately pulled into the world of these 5 young women living in a slum in Bangalore called Heaven. This is the story of these 5 girls: what their lives are like, what their home life is like, their expectations and how it’s different for men and boys, what it means to them to get an education, how they take care of each other and their community, what it is not to fit in, friendship, and acceptance.
The book goes back in time to describe how each girl got to where is is, what her challenges are — from being blind, transgender, gay, having fathers who leave — and what she dreams for herself as the bulldozers in the current day hover over their homes threatening to plow them over. It is also the story of their mothers and even grandmothers because all of these stories are intertwined. There are a lot of characters in this book, but I found it wasn’t overly difficult to keep track of them because they each had their own personality fleshed out so well.
This is a richly and wonderfully told story. The words and images that Subramanian conjures up are vivid, startling, and wonderful. There were some sentences that stopped me in my tracks and I had to read them over.
However, the flip side is that the writing was hard for me sometimes because it was so full of sentence fragments. They were not used sparingly for effect, but were used all the time. I imagine that it is simply the author’s style, but I found it halted the flow of the book. If this doesn’t bother you or you can get past it, then I would definitely recommend this book. It is an honest and important portrayal of the women and girls in Heaven.
Thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for a review copy of this book.
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I was struck by A People’s History of Heaven from the first page. Subramanian’s writing style is so concise; every single word has purpose and punches you in the chest. I loved the perspective shifts, zooming in on the lives of one girl at a time, but never losing focus on the larger story of strength and interconnectedness of this community. Banu’s story has special resonance for me, thinking about the work-centered family focus many of my students come from, and for her story and beyond, I’m excited to get in the hands of the students around me. Subramanian presents a complex, emotional and unflinching look at a Bangalore slum neighborhood; a book that is both deeply beautiful and a criticism of political and social structures.
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This is a gorgeous and wonderful novel about the women and girls of a Bangalore slum. Told in the first person plural, the book dips in and out of macro and micro issues in the community, its history, and its future. Subramanian’s writing is fresh and lively and I adored the nuanced ways in which she handles gender, sexuality, and disability. The novel takes on sexism and education, the ways in which women can subvert the masculine paradigm that seemingly rules the community, and engages with the role of white aid workers and others who seek to help the poor but are clueless of how their subjects and targets feel about them and how they live.
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"Sometimes a dress is more than a dress. Sometimes a dress is a parachute, a promise of a hurtling fall, an uncertain journey."

Mathangi Subramanian's A People's History of Heaven follows the lives of five girls living in the Bangalore slum known as Heaven. While the government tries to demolish the slum to make way for a new shopping mall, the residents of Heaven stand their ground, and we learn what about their lives, their struggles, successes and sacrifices. 

Subramanian's real strength is in her characters. They are strong and well developed, each voice adding to the rich tapestry that is Heaven. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who likes coming of age stories, stories about queer & trans youth, stories about the secrets we keep from others and from ourselves.
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A People's History of Heaven is a well-written book that spoke to me on many levels.  Heaven is actually a slum hidden between expensive high-rise buildings in Bangalor, India.  Five girls, almost women, who are different religions, sexual orientations, and have different goals in life form an unlikely group of crusaders as they try to save their homes from being bulldozed to make room for a shopping mall.  

One girl is blind, one was born male, one an artist, one a dancer, the girls are so different but they love eachother and stand fast in their quest to save Heaven.  They are joined by their mothers - all were cast off by their husbands because they couldn't produce a male heir.  But they refused to be silent or to go down without a fight.

I knew very little about life in India - just what I've read or seen in movies.  I was horrified to learn of the possible fate of these amazing, vibrant women, yet gratified to see them pull together and accomplish feats of strength and will power.  Mathangi Subramanian paints a colorful, lively picture of life in a society that was new to me, but it is love at first sight.  I don't feel like I'm explaining how powerful this book is , or how much it inspired me - you will have to read for yourself!
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Thank you Algonquin Books for gifting me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I rate this book a 3 out of 5 Stars.

I appreciated the diversity in this book, and the in depth look into India’s culture. I loved the bond between the ladies in this book, and the strength they all had. The writing was very pretty. I love that when these women were faced with losing their homes, they banded together, and fought for their homes.

In full disclosure, I did struggle getting into this book, and becoming fully attached to the characters. But once I got about 60% into the book, it really started coming together for me, and since it’s on the smaller side, it was a very quick read. I do believe not many readers have this same issue though, so please take my words with a grain of salt.

I did find the right style to be very flowy, pretty, and delicate. This book was written with passion, and you can very obviously tell that the Author loved the story she was weaving.
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This book is modern magic realism that I have been searching for! It will be the perfect beach read for realistic, fantasy readers this summer. It is told from a vantage point not often written from. I can’t wait to read what Subramanian writes next!
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While this book isn't young adult, I do think it will appeal to YA readers.  We do read a lot about the adult's history, but I feel like the book really focused on the young girls.  

There are a lot of characters in this book.  I mean a lot.  At times, it was hard to remember who each one was, but there is a guide in the book.  I was reading the earc, so I wasn't able to just flip back and forth.  But I would have done that with a physical book and it would have made a big difference.

Each chapter goes back and forth in time, and focuses on different characters.  When the book starts, the women of Heaven were trying to stop bulldozers from tearing down their village.  The families there live in poverty, but this is their home.  Big companies have been building all around Heaven, and now they want to build there, too.  Most of the adult women in Heaven work.  Some for the rich families close to their village.  Some doing odd chores and work.  There are very few men.  Most leave their families and start new ones.  Some are alcoholics or abusers.  This takes place in a pretty modern time because there are cell phones, but it must follow the traditions of the area that I'm not familiar with.   The women listen to the men.  At least when they're around.  They are expected to produce a son.  Their daughters are married off at young ages.  They can't afford modern medicines and have their babies at home.

The young teens were such a big part of the story.  Deepa, Banu, Padma, Rukshana, and Joy.  Each one has their own strengths and their own difficulties.  They were all born the same year and are in the same class.  Except for Deepa.  She is mostly blind and was pulled out of class.  But Deepa "saw" more than people realized.  She was fierce and didn't let her disability harm her.   Deepa's mom was the first child born in Heaven.  Her mother suffered trying to have a child.  She had a lot of miscarriages early on.  Then a baby that died at birth.  She was taken to a hospital that was said to help.  They also paid the woman, which she didn't understand.  She just wanted a healthy baby.  She woke up after having a c-section with a healthy child, but they also sterilized her.

Banu lived with her grandma.  She's sick and everyone knows she won't be around much longer.  Banu isn't very good at school, but she's good with construction and art.  The headmistress of the school notices the strengths of each of her students.  She has connections and tries to find schools that the girls can go to later in life.  She tells Banu about a school for arts, something she didn't even know existed.

Padma was from a migrant family.  She is the only one who can read and write, so she takes care of everything for her family.  Even the finances.  Her mom has an untreated mental illness.  Padma is one of  the brightest in her class.

Rukshana is a queer tomboy.  She begs to wear the trousers instead of dresses.  Her mother is a hijabi union leader.

Joy is the top ranked school in her class.  She's also transgender with three older brothers.  Her mom decides to covert them to Christianity because they could be reborn and Joy could be a daughter.  

Each of these families is very different.  There are different religions and different languages.  But they are all loyal to each other.  Family isn't just blood.  It's who you let in and who you love with your whole heart.

There are a lot of warnings and I'm sorry if I forget some.  Abuse, abandonment, adultery, slurs and harassment towards Joy, non acceptance of gay men, poverty, mental illness, blindness, secret families, miscarriages, death of a baby, fertility issues.  This book shows all the bad along with the good (the people) who live these lives. 

Thank you to the publisher for suggesting this book and sending me a copy for review through Netgalley.  I gave this book 4 stars.  I think it's a pretty powerful book and it really makes you open your eyes to the things around you.
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In India, a slum called Heaven is being threatened with razing.

The local women rally to fight it. We get to know some of these women, each distinctive, but the true focus is on five girls, each with different circumstances, including one with adult-level responsibilities, a visually impaired dancer, and a trans girl.

The writing is graceful, vivid, the narration swooping into each girl in intimate space, then outward again to paint the community. The grim side of poverty and its cost are not sentimentalized, but this is far from being a grimdark book. Central is love and hope, trust and delight in small things.

I found it an absorbing, beautiful read.
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A People's History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian is a delight. Both hard hitting and enjoyable, it gives the full range of what it feels like to be a teen girl in a location some people will never see or be in. Both relatable and revelatory, it feels like a fresh take on a coming-of-age story. The friend group, Banu, Padma, Deepa, Joy, Rukshana, are five girls growing up in Heaven, a slum in India. Heaven, not nearly as ethereal as the name suggests, is facing problems from the government, and the girls must do their best to save it while still growing up themselves.

I really loved Subramanian's writing in this. She focused on all five girls really well, without the story feeling like it leaned too much on one girl's story. It was beautifully interwoven, lyrically written, and a joy to read. I'm so glad I got approved for this ARC. Thank you to Algonquin Books and Netgalley for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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an exceptional story drenched in culture and hope!

    Mathangi Subramanian has intricately woven togethethe threads of these five girls lives into a beautiful story. Five extraordinary girls living in a slum called Heaven in Bangalore India. Now a slum is probably the furthest thing from heaven for most of us, but I think these girls might beg to differ. Surrounded with friendship and love these girls were an impenetrable support system for one another. There was so much beauty in how unconditionally these five friends excepted one another. I don’t know about you but I find that priceless! That was my biggest take away from this book the bond that all the women shared in this book was seriously enviable.

    Heaven is being threatened with being bulldozed down, the women rally to fight and in doing so we learn the backstory of each of these incredible girls and the women in their lives. Each of these girls is trying to find their place in the world just like any girl anywhere, however they have quite a few more obstacles than others including religion, poverty, culture, and politics. Each girl has their own unique circumstances: an artist, a visually impaired girl Who loves to dance, a transgender girl, a girl struggling with her sexuality, and a girl that has been forced to grow up too fast with the burden of her family on her shoulders. Each girl’s story was unique and powerful, I really enjoyed every minute I spend with each of these young ladies. Their circumstances were so incredibly different from my own, but at the very heart there was so much that was similar. I love learning about other cultures it is another benefit of being a reader. But the more I read the more I realize that we are all more similar than different.We want to be loved, we want to find a place where we belong, and we all hold on to hope! Another thing I have learned is the more dire peoples situations are the more resilient they appear to be. This is a book that will stick with me for a long time, I definitely recommend!

*** many thanks to Algonquin for my copy of this book ***
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Loved this book, loved all the girls and women in this story. I'm really into a first person plural POV. The story is non-linear but flows really naturally and the writing is gorgeous. Highly recommended.
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Strong female characters set in India in a slum full of loving characters. This was written very strangely which made it a hard read for me.
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I so enjoy when a story drags me to where they want me to be as these five fearsome girls sneak their way into your heart. Raised in a Bangalore slum, each character gets to provide their backstory that centers around lives defined around by femaleness and class structure as they fight for their future, adventures, and just to be. The unnamed first person plural narrative voice showcases the ingenuity and solidarity of the characters in the unconditional acceptance of each other and each just want to live their best life.

This lithe tale while explore our humanity is as profound as it is entertaining. 

Female power shines brightly.
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I struggled to get into this book a bit but once I did I found it to be a very moving story about the bonds of friendship between 5 teenage girls, each with very unique struggles and backgrounds. The crisis of the book is the slum where they live being torn down and their fight to save it but the heart of the story is each persons story and the way that society has played a role in that. The story definitely sheds light on the struggles of woman, and particularly poor women, in Indian society but it also shows us the heart and love of these people despite the struggles they face. Overall I enjoyed the book and look forward to seeing what this author does next.
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A People’s History of Heaven centers around five young girls who share stories of love, loss, learning, laughter, and more importantly, sisterhood. We follow them, past and present, as they fight to remain in school, discover themselves, and fight to be girls in a world made for boys. It’s told through a very interesting POV, first person omniscient, where the narrator is never revealed but knows all the details of the girls’ and the older women’s lives. It’s something I don’t think I’ve ever read before, but it really works for this one because you get to feel the intense sense of community that’s here but you aren’t limited to one girl’s story, you get to see the history and present of Heaven.

I will say this feels very spastic in terms of plot because there doesn’t seem to be some central driving force aside from the pending demolition, and even that has little to no resolution in the end. You really hop around from girl to girl, woman to woman, story to story, but somehow, it works. And it works damn well. I really enjoyed this, it was both a fun read and a deeper, more meaningful one at the same time. It was one of those stories where I could just read a hundred pages without getting tired of the characters or the story line or anything, I was hooked from the moment I started.

The girls in this are so special and I think they’re what makes this story the gem that it is. There is so much diversity here within this community and each girl, each woman, gets the chance to tell their story and live their truth over the course of this novel. I loved them all. I was rooting for them all. I wanted them to go to school and fall in love (with boys or girls) and get out of the slums and live their dreams. This was the first time in a long time that I really connected to a cast of characters like I did with these girls, with their families. I laughed, I cried, I dreamed with them, and in the end, I was sad to see them go.

This novel was an incredibly moving and deeply touching debut and I’m both grateful to the author for bring these characters to me and for the publisher for offering this ARC to me. I can’t wait to see what else this author does, I’ll be following her for sure! Do yourself a favor and pick this one up!
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This story of five young women living in a slum in Bangalore defies description.  In lesser hands, the setting and the circumstances could have overwhelmed what is really a very heartfelt story of women supporting one another.  I found this beautifully written and quite moving.  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.  Recommend to those interested in expanding their horizons.
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Thank you, Algonquin via NetGalley for the digital copy to review. All opinions are my own.

From the publisher’s synopsis: A politically driven graffiti artist. A transgender Christian convert. A blind girl who loves to dance. A queer daughter of a hijabi union leader. These are some of the young women who live in a Bangalore slum known as Heaven, young women whom readers will come to love in the moving, atmospheric, and deeply inspiring debut, A People’s History of Heaven.

“Back then, Heaven was just a bunch of blue tarps strung up into haphazard tents in a clearing on the edge of the coconut grove. A for-now kind of place, not a forever kind of place. A square of dirt to tide a family over until something better came along.”
Heaven is a slum in Bangladore, India. As one of India’s fastest growing cities, modern high-rises and technology are moving in, slowly encroaching on the little space the slum’s occupants still have. A community of women, from the elderly grandmas to a group of school-aged girls, this is a story of womanhood, supporting your friends, and fighting for your home.

“It’s funny, being a girl. That things that’s supposed to push you down, defeat you, shove you back, back, and farther back still? Turn it the right way, and it’ll push you forward instead.”
The thing I loved most about this book was the relationships all of the women, young and old, had with each other. Regardless of blood relations, the women looked after the children, using their individual strengths to encourage success in each of the young children running around the slum. They knew they were poor, but they didn’t dwell on it. They didn’t pity themselves. Instead, they rose above their circumstances and shined. With the help of the principal at the local school, these girls knew they were destined for more than the life they currently led. The principal saw the brilliance of their minds and prepped them for college as a way to help them better their futures. In a place where education wasn’t freely accepted for girls, she taught them that they did, in fact, deserve to rise!

This book is beautiful in all ways – the message, the character development, the story. I am so glad I stumbled upon this one!

What’s the last book that pleasantly surprised you?
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