The Most Precious Substance on Earth

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Pub Date 28 Jun 2022 | Archive Date 15 Aug 2022

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Description

A Chatelaine Summer Reads pick. Named one of the most anticipated books of the fall by CBC Books and 49th Shelf.

Journey Prize winner Shashi Bhat’s sharp, darkly comic, and poignant story about a high school student's traumatic experience and how it irrevocably alters her life, for fans of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Girlhood, and Pen15


Bright, hilarious, and sensitive fourteen-year-old Nina spends her spare time reading Beowulf and flirting with an internet predator. She has a vicious crush on her English teacher, and her best friend Amy is slowly drifting away. Meanwhile, Nina’s mother tries to match her up with local Indian boys unfamiliar with her Saved by the Bell references, and Nina’s worried father has started reciting Hindu prayers outside her bedroom door. Beginning with a disturbing incident at her high school, THE MOST PRECIOUS SUBSTANCE ON EARTH tells stories of Nina’s life from the ‘90s to present day, when she returns to the classroom as a high school teacher with a haunting secret and discovers that the past is never far behind her.

Darkly funny, deeply affecting, unsettling, and at times even shocking, Shashi Bhat’s irresistible novel-in-stories examines the relationships between those who take and those who have something taken. THE MOST PRECIOUS SUBSTANCE ON EARTH is a sharp-edged and devastating look at how women are conditioned to hide their trauma and suppress their fear, loneliness, and anger, and an unforgettable portrait of how silence can shape a life.
A Chatelaine Summer Reads pick. Named one of the most anticipated books of the fall by CBC Books and 49th Shelf.

Journey Prize winner Shashi Bhat’s sharp, darkly comic, and poignant story about a high...

Advance Praise

"A powerful, surprising and terrifying meditation on girlhood, as dark as it is funny. There is an Edward Scissorhands quality to Nina, the book’s heroine; the power and accuracy of her insight cuts those around her, but none as deeply as herself. And yet, what a pleasure it is to be cut open by the knife of Nina’s thoughts and the power of Shashi Bhat’s prose. In The Most Precious Substance on Earth, all the best punchlines do permanent damage."—Rufi Thorpe, author of The Knockout Queen

"With language as lovely as it is razor sharp, Shashi Bhat paints an indelible portrait of the pleasure and pain of adolescence—and the scars it leaves behind. Like the young woman at its center, this novel-in-stories has a fierce voice, a soft beauty, and a huge heart."—Robin Wasserman, author of Mother Daughter Widow Wife

“Honest, hilarious, and profoundly affecting, The Most Precious Substance on Earth is rife with moments of such emotional clarity they made me gasp, and are still ringing in my mind days later. Bhat writes with such a deep understanding of the world that by the end of the book, I felt I understood it a little better, too.”—Amy Jones, author of Every Little Piece of Me

“High school is a setting ready-made for drama, a fact that Shashi Bhat exploits to great effect in her glorious novel. Bhat precisely captures adolescence with all its ennui and angst, and she is a master of observation, finding humor in the quotidian. Full of wit and insight, The Most Precious Substance on Earth is a joy to read. A sheer delight.”—Sharon Bala, author of The Boat People

“How refreshing to have a character as witty, as vibrant, as sensitive as Nina. The Most Precious Substance on Earth is a brilliant, laugh-out-loud funny, and dangerously good coming-of-age story that offers sharp commentary on the very real realities women and girls negotiate every single day. Come for the laughter, stay for the wisdom. Shashi Bhat has crafted something special. More than a must-read, it is a must-share.”—Téa Mutonji, author of Shut Up You’re Pretty

"A powerful, surprising and terrifying meditation on girlhood, as dark as it is funny. There is an Edward Scissorhands quality to Nina, the book’s heroine; the power and accuracy of her insight cuts...


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ISBN 9781538707913
PRICE $28.00 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

Nina is one of my favorite characters of the year. A recommended first purchase for all general fiction collections.

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I read the novel as an ARC in less than two days - I had COVID and couldn't go to work, but I was drawn to reading this story over TV and streaming options for those two days. It's a really lovely coming-of-age story about a young Canadian girl (and later, a woman) from her childhood in the 90s to present day. The main character Nina and I are approximately the same age, so her story was really relatable, raw, and irreverent at times. I loved how each chapter was a vignette from the main character's life, transporting us ahead years at a time in a way that to me, left me wanting more information about the intervening years, but also being excited to join Nina on her next adventure (or mishap). I thought this vignette style and the gritty, candid, emotional descriptions of Nina's life events were reminiscent of House on Mango Street, but the authors' writing styles being so different keeps this novel from being derivative.

As a teacher, I often read new novels thinking about how students could benefit from reading the book. I relate to Nina as an elder millennial woman, but my younger students of all ages would benefit from learning this character's narrative. The way that the author portrays different men in Nina's life is very realistic and I think young men (any age men, actually) would benefit from understanding this narrative.

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