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The Most Precious Substance on Earth by Shashi Bhat

The Most Precious Substance on Earth by Shashi Bhat

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Paperback novel

A humorous coming-of-age novel and a sharp-edged look at how silence can shape a life, from the winner of the Journey Prize. A Chatelaine Summer Reads pick. Named one of the most anticipated books of the fall by CBC Books and 49th Shelf.

"But wait, what happened to the girl?"

"I don't know," I say. I don't tell him that what will happen to her is what happens to every girl.

Nina, a bright, hilarious, and sensitive 14-year-old, doesn't say anything when her best friend begins to pull away, or when her crush on her English teacher intensifies. She doesn't say anything when her mother tries to match her up with local Halifax Indian boys unfamiliar with her Saved by the Bell references, or when her worried father starts reciting Hindu prayers outside her bedroom door. ("How can your dad be happy when his only daughter is unsettled?") And she won't speak of the incident in high school that changes the course of her life.

On her tumultuous path from nineties high school student to present-day high school teacher, Nina will learn difficult truths about existing as a woman in the world. And whether she's pushing herself to deliver speeches at Toastmasters meetings, struggling through her MFA program, enduring the indignities of online dating, or wrestling with how to best guide her students, she will discover that the past is never far behind her.

Darkly funny, deeply moving, at times unsettling and even shocking, Shashi Bhat's irresistible novel examines the fraught relationships between those who take and those who have something taken. Rich with wry humour and sharp-edged insight, The Most Precious Substance on Earth is an unforgettable portrait of how silence can shape a life.

Shashi Bhat’s second novel, The Most Precious Substance on Earth, is forthcoming from McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House Canada (Fall 2021) and Grand Central Publishing/Hachette in the US (Spring 2022). Her collection of short stories is also forthcoming from McClelland & Stewart. Her debut novel, The Family Took Shape (Cormorant, 2013), was a finalist for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award.

Her fiction has appeared in publications across North America, including The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, The Fiddlehead, The Threepenny Review, The Missouri Review, Best Canadian Stories 2018 & 2019, Journey Prize Stories 24 & 30, and others. She was the winner of the 2018 Journey Prize and was a 2018 National Magazine Award finalist for fiction. She is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a Bronwen Wallace Award finalist.

Shashi has served on juries for the Canada Council and the National Magazine Awards, and has been a contest judge for The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, and the Professional Writers Association of Canada. She has given readings and participated on panels for Word Vancouver, the Growing Room Festival, Fraser Valley Literary Festival, fine. Reading Series, Dominion Reading Series, Surrey Muse, and other events. She is an organizer of the annual Indigenous Voices reading series sponsored by EVENT magazine and Douglas College and is a former member of the board of directors for the Magazine Association of BC.

Shashi holds an MFA from The Johns Hopkins University and a BA from Cornell University. She is editor-in-chief of EVENT magazine and teaches creative writing at Douglas College.