We have so many stories about falling in love, but this one about “falling in friendship” has been an amazing read! Canadian musician, writer, and visual artist Vivek Shraya’s second novel, The Subtweet, is all about friendship, regret, and ambition.
The friendship begins when internet-famous artist Rukmini covers Neela Devaki’s song. The story of these two aspiring musicians, Neela and Rukmini, is primarily told from Neela’s perspective. The transformative friendship between them is the main focus of the plot, but the book also gives us a glimpse into the music industry, social media and many other intersections.
The two musicians meet, and the plot is their relationship through their career ups and downs, jealousy and self-doubt, and then there is an internet firestorm. Full of passion and a desire to push cultural boundaries, she is judgmental and, because of her own cultural limitations, is scared of a genuine connection.
The Subtweet has a lot to unpack: social media, race, imposter syndrome, and so much more! It also sheds light on the systemic obstacles facing women of colour specifically and also how, unfortunately, sometimes one succeeds at the expense of another. Situations bring in the question of whether these actions were because of jealousy or opportunity. The plot of Subtweet, while remaining dedicated to the friendship, also examines the art of BIPOC women in white spaces and the corrupting influence of social media.
Rukmini’s career takes off after a white woman invites her on a tour. She is primarily invited to sing songs about marginalization to white audiences. Vivek Shraya does a great job of writing white characters. Rukmini goes on tour and gets too busy to stay in regular touch, leaving Neela feeling uncertain and questioning her friendship with Rukmini. They follow each other on social media, such as Instagram and Twitter, and throughout the book, we learn about the true villain of the story, the “performative nature of social media,” as well as how easily social media can hurt people to their core.
There are other female musicians in the narrative too, Kasi, Sumi, and Malika are all women who are within each other’s circles. They are friends, but there was obvious tension among them because they are all in the music scene. All of the characters were so multi-layered, and on top of that, the author had some incredible comments on the music industry in general.
Another thing that was neatly done in the narrative by Vivek Shraya was the characters and their layers. Rukmini is a transgender individual, but nothing about the central narrative revolves around her trans identity. It is mentioned in the narrative that her identity as a person of color is sheds more light in the narrative than her transgender identity.
Some quotes like “What are the implications when a light-skinned brown woman replaces a dark-skinned brown woman?” put focus on colorism in the music industry, because in the novel, Rukmini was easily fangirled, unlike Neela, as Rukmini was of a lighter skin tone than Neela. Or maybe it was Rukmini’s music?
It more than just a great representation of a brown transgender woman. Overall, available on amazon, The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya is a thoughtful book that questions the intersections of success and ambition, as well as gender and race.