But Neil has a problem. He just isn't feeling it. He doesn't make bad grades but he isn't a high flyer. He doesn't already know what he wants to do and isn't on the merry-go-round of constant activities to pad his upcoming college applications. He wonders how all his peers are so motivated and know exactly what they want. His next door neighbor, Anita Dayal, is another example of someone fated to fly high. They have been friends forever growing up together although that friendship has taken a hit in the social standards of high school. But he is still in and out of the house she shares with her mother, Anjali, to help with things that her husband can't do since he is out in California with the software company he created. Neil comes across the secret of Anita's motivation and persistence one day by mistake. Her mother is lifting small pieces of gold jewelry from the families she caters to. That jewelry, imbued with their motivation and success, is melted down and put into a drink that Anita takes religiously. Neil wants that same help and soon he is taking the drink also and his grades and activities improve dramatically. Everything is going well until a disaster crashes all that Neil knows.
Sanjena Sathian has written a novel exploring a culture most readers don't know much about. A common stereotype is that Indians are extremely smart but most who throw off such a statement don't know about the parental focus that goes into the academic success and career trajectories they envy. This debut novel from an Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate refocuses the coming of age story into a viewpoint of the immigrant experience as well. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.