I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In The Reading List, Mukesh has been mourning his wife for two years. His life in Wembley is rather solitary, but he wants to bond with his ten-year-old granddaughter, who loves to read. So one day, he goes to the local library his wife used to love. Meanwhile, teenage Aleisha works at the library in Wembley for the summer, partially to escape her deteriorating home life. One shift, she finds an anonymous reading list and becomes intrigued. When Mukesh and Aleisha meet, she uses the list to recommend a book to him, and as the two of them work through the list, they not only grow closer as friends, but also find that literature can build bridges and heal wounds in ways they didn’t realize.
This is such a touching book! I really like both the main characters. They are so different, and yet find meaning in the same books—and isn’t that what reading is all about? Watching their friendship blossom was really sweet, especially as they are both struggling with difficult situations at home. Mukesh’s loneliness and his attempts to get out of his comfort zone, and Aleisha’s struggles to cope with her mother’s mental illness and the growing distance between her and her brother are sympathetic. You really feel for these characters, and cheer when they make positive connections.
The other characters, like Aiden and Indira and Naina, are also wonderful, though Mukesh and Aleisha are undeniably the stars. However, it’s a diverse and well-characterized cast of characters that makes Wembley feel alive. It really made me want to go visit London again.
However, not everything about this book is feel-good or wholesome—there are such sad parts, too. Not only is this a story about finding connection and friendship in unlikely places, but it is also a story about grief and loss. It also tackles some serious subjects, like Aleisha’s mother’s mental health problems, as well as a character who commits suicide (I won’t say who). The book gets pretty heavy, not shying away from the pain these things cause loved ones. It may have an uplifting message about community and family, but it isn’t always an easy read.
All that aside, in the end, this is also a story about, well, stories. The way Adams writes about books shows a lifelong love for them; to her, they are clearly magical. Seeing these two characters, who are not readers at the beginning of the book, open their eyes to how literature can be so important, educational, and moving was beautiful. Adams demonstrates just how fiction can be both an escape from tough realities and also a reflection or a guide to navigating real life, sometimes at the same time. This book is a love letter to friendship and to stories, and even with its painful moments, it’s really heartwarming.
Overall rating: 8.8/10
The Reading List is now available!