If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel

If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel

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Synopsis:
In these eleven sharp, surprising stories, Neel Patel gives voice to our most deeply held stereotypes and then slowly undermines them. His characters, almost all of who are first-generation Indian Americans, subvert our expectations that they will sit quietly by. We meet two brothers caught in an elaborate web of envy and loathing; a young gay man who becomes involved with an older man whose secret he could never guess; three women who almost gleefully throw off the pleasant agreeability society asks of them; and, in the final pair of linked stories, a young couple struggling against the devastating force of community gossip.

My Review:

Neel Patel’s collection of short stories—stories about living and loving as a brown person in America—rewards readers who like to get straight to the good stuff.

Chilled out on the couch, screen in my face, it took three sentences into the first story to get me hooked. I read this in two long, quick sessions, each story unfolding in a series of emotional roller coasters.

From one night stands to first loves to surviving brutal family gossip, there’s a lot of ground covered in just 224 pages. I appreciate the blunt, emotionally heavy tone sustained throughout the book, though I longed to be swept up more fully within each narrative. Too often, characters would feel flat, like literal words on a page (or screen, in my case).

An example: In Just A Friend,” John, the protagonist, meets Ashwyn at a bar. They begin seeing each other, but as their relationship progresses, more and more levels of deception are revealed. That premise is great. I want to get into this, right? But with barely any context or time spent with the characters, we’re ushered into a (very dramatic) climax and I’m left feeling a bit cold. John and Ashwyn don’t feel like actual people I could meet at a bar.

Well, if you hated it so much, why three stars? Um, yooooo the last few stories, though! Like, mmm, once you get to the eponymous story and beyond—those had more of an emotional pull. The final two stories especially, they seemed to be written with a little more patience and care than the rest.

Complaints and middling star rating aside, this is a solid debut collection that I’d recommend to most avid fiction readers. And don’t get it twisted: I will definitely be reading whatever Neel Patel decides to write next.

Shouts out to NetGalley and Flatiron Books for the opportunity to read and review If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi.

 ★★★✰✰

 3 stars

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