Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. Thanks! All opinions are my own.
Book: A People’s History of Heaven
Author: Mathangi Subramanian
Book Series: Standalone
Diversity: LGBT and POC friendly book. Transgender main, Blind rep main, and many different beliefs.
Publication Date: March 19, 2019
Genre: YA Contemporary
Recommended Age: 16+ (some violence and slightly mature scenes)
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Synopsis: Heaven is a thirty-year-old slum hidden between brand-new, high-rise apartment buildings and technology incubators in contemporary Bangalore. In this tight-knit community, five girls on the cusp of womanhood-a politically driven graffiti artist; a transgender Christian convert; a blind girl who loves to dance; and the queer daughter of a hijabi union leader-forge an unbreakable bond.
When the local government threatens to demolish their tin shacks in order to build a shopping mall, the girls and their mothers refuse to be erased. Together they wage war on the bulldozers sent to bury their homes, and, ultimately, on the city that wishes that families like them would remain hidden forever.
Elegant, poetic, and vibrant, A People’s History of Heaven takes a clear-eyed look at adversity and geography and dazzles in its depiction of love and female friendship.
Review: This book was absolutely beautiful! I loved the wide array of different but ultimately connected characters and I loved how the story was written. It was poetic and vibrant and the book was intriguing from start to finish. I loved the world building as well.
I did feel like there was some moments where the pace was slowed down. I also feel like while this book is gorgeously written there are a ton of metaphors and at some point it got too much for me. I feel like the book did very well to describe the environment and the characters, but maybe it was a bit too descriptive in a lot of places. There’s also a ton of characters and it’s honestly a lot of info to take in. Overall, I really liked it and I thought the way the book was being told needed those extra descriptors.
Verdict: If you’re into poetic books, definitely grab this read!
Praise for A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF HEAVEN
By Mathangi Subramanian
“The language [takes] on a musicality that is in sharp contrast to the bleak setting…refreshing…a strong debut.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Subramanian writes with empathy and exuberance, offering a much-needed glimpse into a world that too many of us don’t even know exists. This is a book to give your little sister, your mother, your best friend, yourself, so together you can celebrate the strength of women and girls, the tenacity it takes to survive in a world that would rather have you disappear.”
“The novel tenderly guides the reader into and through the struggles of lives lived at the margins, with a sensitivity to experience that can’t be reduced to an apolitical and static image of slum life. If anything, Subramanian deftly explores what political solidarity can look like…A People’s History of Heaven does not reduce its characters to dozens of fists raised in the air, but instead gives a full account of the extraordinary lives that stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the wreckage of a wealthy city, ready to fight against the bulldozers upon the horizon.”
“A vibrant novel…a beautiful story of love, loyalty, and female friendship.”
“[A] colorful, dramatic coming of age story.”
“This novel features a wide cast of characters and each girl has a unique perspective to offer. This book highlights many themes such as poverty, feminism, transgender issues, and living with disabilities. This beautifully written novel follows these girls as they navigate life’s obstacles with the love and support of their friends and family… I also fell in love with each character very quickly. Each girl in the story is very compelling in their own way, and I kept turning the pages to learn more about them…Perfect for readers who want to learn more about Indian and South Asian culture, or for readers who love stories featuring strong female friendships.”
“Subramanian’s observations are sharp, witty, and incisive; her writing is consistently gorgeous. She is passionate about the plight of Indian girls subjected to a patriarchal system that ruthlessly oppresses and devalues them…In depicting the societal ills that oppress India’s women, Subramanian refuses to acquiesce to the plot that fate seems to have written for these girls. With the assistance of each other, their mothers, and a particularly dedicated headmistress — and in ways that stretch credulity — each girl overcomes seemingly intractable obstacles to face another day.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books
“Spending time with this fearsome five is…just plain fun. Slum life is never romanticized. The narrator, an unnamed member of the girls’ inner circle, delivers enough cynical wisdom and pithy commentary to show just how wise these girls are to their plight without dismissing how insidious cultural messages are. What crystalizes is the sure knowledge that none of them are powerless…A People’s History of Heaven forefronts human dignity and the intelligence it takes to survive at the intersection of so much society uses to set people apart, while also making it clear that, ‘in Heaven, anger is not about any one person. It’s about the whole world.’”
“Poetic…Subramanian’s rich imagery conjures up the bustle of a diverse city where children live in poverty mere blocks from three-story homes where their mothers work as maids. With its heroic young cast, A People’s History of Heaven has huge YA crossover potential, and its social commentary makes it a wonderful book club selection. As colorful as a Rangoli design, this bittersweet coming-of-age story will linger in the reader’s mind.”
“Wonderful…The stories of these young women…are full of emotion and drama, and also fierce power and hope. Their relationships and support for one another is inspiring, making this a beautiful testament to friendship and individuality. More LGBTQ+ novels about people of color, please!”
“Subramanian sets her story within the harsh reality of Indian slum life but neither sentimentalizes the poverty of the girls nor dwells on it. Instead, she shows their potential and the joy that they can find with each other.”
—Real Change News
“Tackling some of the most trenchant issues facing Indian women in particular—casteism, arranged marriage, forced sterilization—as well as women all over the world…It has the heart-on-its-sleeve melodrama of some of the most successful teen novels and films, though it will likely also appeal to adults wanting to tuck in to a novel which is like the brainy big sister of a Lifetime movie. A girl power-fueled story that examines some dark social issues with a light…touch.”
“A People’s History of Heaven forefronts human dignity and the intelligence it takes to survive at the intersection of so much society uses to set people apart.”
“How can a novel about a group of daughters and mothers on the verge of losing their homes in a Bangalore slum be one of the most joyful and exuberant books I’ve read? Subramanian writes without a shred of didacticism or pity, skillfully upending expectations and fiercely illuminating her characters’ strength, intelligence, and passionate empathy. A People’s History of Heaven should be a case study in how to write political fiction. Each page delighted and amazed me.”
–Heather Abel, author of The Optimistic Decade
“Strong debut…Subramanian’s evocative novel waves together a diverse, dynamic group of girls to create a vibrant tapestry of a community on the brink.”
“Everything about A People’s History of Heaven is wonderful: the lyrical, light touch of the narrator, the story, the humor, and most of all, the girls. This novel—as shiny and crinkly and heartbreaking as “cellophane the color of false promises”—overflows with girls I want to meet, befriend, celebrate, and shelter from the ills of their world. But they don’t need me to do that! Faced with bigotry and bulldozers, these girls know exactly what to do: stick together and help each other learn, love, see, fight. These are girls who ache, girls who build, girls who claim or escape girl-ness. Read about Banu, Deepa, Joy, Rukshana, Padma, and Leela: These are girls who save the world.”
–Minal Hajratwala, author of Leaving India
“What a thrill to read a novel as daring and urgent as A People’s History of Heaven. It’s a story about defiance in the face of erasure, about the survival tactics of an unforgettable group of girls. I can’t remember the last time I encountered a voice of such moral ferocity and compassion.”
—Tania James, author of The Tusk That Did the Damage
“Everything about A People’s History of Heaven is wonderful: the lyrical, light touch of the narrator, the story, the humor, and most of all, the girls. This novel…overflows with girls I want to meet, befriend, celebrate, and shelter from the ills of their world. But they don’t need me to do that! Faced with bigotry and bulldozers, these girls know exactly what to do: stick together and help each other learn, love, see, fight. These are girls who ache, girls who build, girls who claim or escape girl-ness. Read about Banu, Deepa, Joy, Rukshana, Padma, and Leela: These are girls who save the world.”
—Minal Hajratwala, award-winning author of Leaving India