Book Review

The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya

Genre | Contemporary Fiction
Page #s | 220
Publishing Date | April 2020

Everyone talks about falling in love, but falling in friendship can be just as captivating. When Neela Devaki’s song is covered by internet-famous artist Rukmini, the two musicians meet and a transformative friendship begins. But as Rukmini’s star rises and Neela’s stagnates, jealousy and self-doubt creep in. With a single tweet, their friendship implodes, one career is destroyed, and the two women find themselves at the center of an internet firestorm.

Celebrated multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya’s second novel is a stirring examination of making art in the modern era, a love letter to brown women, an authentic glimpse into the music industry, and a nuanced exploration of the promise and peril of being seen.

Goodreads

The Subtweet is a book about friendship, ambition, and regret. The fact that it packs all of this into 220 pages, and that this length feels perfect, is nothing short of amazing. The story of Neela and Rukmini, two aspiring musicians, zips along at a steady pace, skipping through time without feeling rushed, unwilling to linger unecessarily.

The story is primarily told through Neela’s point of view. She is a creative, full of passion and the desire to push cultural limitations as well as her own. Accordingly, she is judgmental, standoffish, and scared of genuine connection. When she meets Rukmini, a woman who stumbles into musical fame by performing a cover of Neela’s song, she is in awe of the joy that Rukmini brings to creation. The two women grow close, but their different approaches to music stir up insecurity and jealousy that ultimately pulls them apart.

There is so much to unpack in this little book; it handles women, social media, and race with ease while juggling the complicated relationship between success, talent, and imposter’s syndrome. As Neela, Rukmini, and others pursue success in a career with significant obstacles embedded in the system for women (and women of colour specifically), they sometimes use each other or throw each other under the bus, prompting legitimate questions about whether actions were made because of jealousy or opportunity. It never feels catty; instead, it leaves readers wondering where the moral line is, or ought to be.

Additionally, the book made me think about current debates about marginalized communities holding themselves to higher (and sometimes impossible) standards. Rukmini’s success takes off when a white woman invites her on her tour; she is later taken to task for singing songs about marginalization to white audiences, but it’s hard to blame her for seizing an opportunity. And speaking of white people, Shraya does such a good job writing white characters who are good at saying the right thing until they undermine their “progressiveness” with their privilege in the same breath.

The Subtweet is a deep book, and one that lends itself well to a book club pick – which is why I’m so excited to discuss it with my book club tonight! Top of my list of questions: What happened to Rukmini and will she ever become friends with Neela again??

What Makes This Book Queer?

Vivek Shraya is a trans artist and author, and in a super cool move, she’s made Rukmini trans, but in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it way. In fact, I DID miss it! My friend had to point out that Rukmini offhandedly worries that Hayley hires her for being “a hip brown trans girl,” and that this is the only time it’s mentioned. I love a story that dives into the reality of being trans, but I also love a story where it is incidental, because that is not the piece of identity that is being explored.

Side note: Although, YES, it is cool to see a book explore the friendship between two women, Neela and Rukmini’s relationship could so easily have tipped over into romance, and I really wanted it to! I ship them, but I’m still pleased with the story we got.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

The Subtweet is a thoughtful, incisive book that expertly questions the intersections of ambition, success, gender, and race. Everyone should read it!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

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