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Fiction Coming Of Age

The Most Precious Substance on Earth

by (author) Shashi Bhat

Grand Central Publishing
Initial publish date
Jun 2022
Coming of Age, Friendship, Literary, Contemporary Women, Feminist
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2021
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jun 2022
    List Price
    $11.99 USD

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


Journey Prize winner Shashi Bhat’s "powerful, surprising and terrifying" (Rufi Thorpe) 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.

About the author

Shashi Bhat's short fiction has been published in several journals, including PRISM Interntaional, Event Magazine, The Threepenny Review, and The Missouri Review. Her story "Why I Read Beowulf" appeared in The Journey Prize Stories 24, and her story "Indian Cooking" was a finalist for the 2010 RBC Bronwen Wallace Writers' Trust Award. She currently resides in Halifax, where she teaches at Dalhousie University.

Shashi Bhat's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Potent. . .Savvy readers will realize early that Bhat's narrative is no easy read, but committed audiences will also parse, appreciate and retain what Nina has curated as 'a gallery of only good things.'"

Shelf Awareness

"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

"Nina frustrates, humors, horrifies, and exhilarates in the scope of these pages. Reading her life on the page, though fictional, feels voyeuristic in that dusty-yearbook way, and ultimately I truly lost myself in the spectatorship."—Chicago Review of Books

“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

“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

"With the smooth suspense of a novel and the openness of a journal, Bhat’s writing is transportive as it pops from one major event to the next. . . Bhat’s novel is a slice of life that will either ring eerily true, or be a highly educational experience in empathy."—Associated Press

"Bhat (The Family Took Shape) balances humor and pathos in this savvy coming-of-age story. . . [Bhat] does an exceptional job revealing the turmoil under Nina’s placid facade as she navigates dating, socializing, and the downward trajectory of her career. It adds up to a bold statement about the impact of a young woman’s trauma."—Publishers Weekly

"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

"An empowering and liberatory coming-of-age novel for 'the girls who stay quiet.'"—Kirkus Reviews

“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

"Bhat’s debut about the rocky coming of age of an Indian Canadian young woman is disarming, disquieting, and filled with 1990s nostalgia nuggets."—Library Journal