In the rural Ohio of the late 1980s, social outcast Barry Nadler begins his freshman year of high school with low expectations. He resolves to go unnoticed as much as possible, until his world is upended by the arrival of Gurbaksh Singh, Gary for short, a Sikh teenager. Charismatic and wildly conspicuous, Gurbaksh befriends Barry and pulls him into a series of startling and uncharacteristic exploits.
But as Barry becomes popular-adjacent at school, the rest of his world starts to unravel. His mom’s trips for her job with Marriott seem to keep her away longer. His philosophy professor dad is dealing with something. And soon his classmates and neighbors begin to react to the presence of the Singhs, a family so different from theirs. Through bitingly comic asides and wry observations, Barry becomes increasingly tuned into the seeds of xenophobia and racism finding fertile soil in this insular community, until tragedy unfolds.
In bracing prose that captures the authentic voice of a heartrending awakening, David Stuart MacLean’s How I Learned to Hate in Ohio shines an uncomfortable light on the roots of white middle-American discontent. At once darkly funny and surprisingly moving, this is a humane, provocative, and undeniably resonant debut novel for our divided world.