Azalea Heights by author Rajat Narula
Thank you so much to author Rajat Narula for providing me with a copy of his novel in exchange for this honest review.
The novel is told from various perspectives as the reader follows the lives of several families living in the housing complex known as Azalea Heights. You know the kind, a typical suburban neighborhood, cookie cutter houses with similar floor plans, middle to upper middle class, kids playing, and sprinklers watering the lawns. To an outsider this is all perfectly peaceful. But all families and individuals are dealing with a personal struggle.
There’s Naina, the recent divorcee with her half white son looking for a new start. Rohan, who owns a local restaurant and is struggling to make a profit. Gerard, the PTSD laden Iraq war veteran. Altaf, the father of an ever more zealous Muslim son. And many more.
The families all deal with similar strifes. They want to overcome their past traumas, they want their children to be healthy and successful, and they want to fit in within their neighborhood. Although they all share this they are burdened with preconceived assumptions about race as well as the typical bias of thinking that everyone is better off and they’re the only ones facing hardships.
Unfortunately, the event that will bond these individuals is a tragedy. It is common for people to bond over a common enemy or a shared hardship. The unifying cataclysm in Azalea Heights is a school shooting.
Americans have been experiencing an absolutely uneccessary amount of school and mass shootings over the past years. It has basically become part of the culture. It is certainly something that American parents now have to fear in a very real way. However, many books and movies are hesitant to address the topic. Almost as if not talking about it will make it go away.
Author Narula humanizes the victims as well as the perpetrators. When the news covers a mass shooting it often focuses on the politics of gun control instead of the people involved. Depending on the bias the shooters are dehumanized to become a symbol of generic gun violence or generic mental health problems. Azalea Heights shows the person behind the weapon and allows the reader to feel sympathy for them.
This is a brave strategy that makes for a great book. It can be hard to want to read about these kinds of subjects but it is important to see that almost all people are not “evil.” It’s not that simple. People are complex and circumstances can lead anyone astray. Most importantly, people can change and people can be helped.
Azalea Heights balances the heavy subject matter with great friendships, budding romance, and casual conversations. All of the things that create a full life and a great story. Everyone has ups and downs all the time, life is never black and white.
I strongly recommend Azalea Heights to all readers. Read this book and give a friendly wave to your neighbors.
5/5 suburban homes 🏠🏠🏠🏠🏠
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