In poet Mona Arshi’s debut novel Somebody Loves You, Ruby, who was born to Indian parents in England, stopped talking at school. She goes to see various therapists. Her older sister, Rania, is artistic but morbid. The girls’ mother is in and out of psychiatric hospitals. Ruby herself was ill and had post-viral fatigue. Relatives come to help out for periods of time; acquaintances offer religious platitudes. Through it all, Ruby’s vibrant imagination and storytelling gild her memories.
Quirky characters and exuberant prose leaven the melancholy of the family’s situation. The book’s titled vignettes are sometimes just a page or two long. Ruby likens herself to Scheherazade, surviving day by day through her tales. “I am an expert in the art of solitude and quietness,” she confides; the page is her outlet. “Look in the margins for the truth,” she advises. It is through such forgotten fragments that she reconstructs memories of her mother’s accidents—including one with gardening shears.
The sisters’ private vocabulary is a joy. They nickname one family member “Terrible Auntie Number One” and refer to times when they are left alone with their mother as “Mugdays.” Though she won’t speak in public, Ruby delights in language, enlisting a litany of euphemisms to mark next-door neighbor Eena’s death. She feels she hears Eena’s voice from beyond the grave, and attributes her widower’s demise soon after to a broken heart. It’s as if Ruby is constructing a personal trove of myths to bolster her against microaggressions, like a pen pal who’s forbidden from writing to a brown girl, or neighbors who quote biblical parables and offer prayers, even though they know she is Hindu.
Sad yet effervescent, Somebody Loves You gives a winsome child’s-eye view of how mental health issues affect her immigrant family.
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