The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
ISBN: 9780062933225 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062933249 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062933256 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781094027500 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B07XF4RLX9 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B07N7F1V5V (Kindle edition)
Publisher: William Morrow|HarperCollins
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
From the international bestselling author of Secret Daughter and The Golden Son comes a poignant, unforgettable novel about a family’s growing apart and coming back together in the wake of tragedy.
The Olanders embody the American dream in a globalized world. Jaya, the cultured daughter of an Indian diplomat and Keith, an ambitious banker from middle-class Philadelphia, meet in a London pub in 1988 and make a life together in suburban California. Their strong marriage is built on shared beliefs and love for their two children: headstrong teenager Karina and young son Prem, the light of their home.
But love and prosperity cannot protect them from sudden, unspeakable tragedy, and the family’s foundation cracks as each member struggles to seek a way forward. Jaya finds solace in spirituality. Keith wagers on his high-powered career. Karina focuses relentlessly on her future and independence. And Prem watches helplessly as his once close-knit family drifts apart.
When Karina heads off to college for a fresh start, her search for identity and belonging leads her down a dark path, forcing her and her family to reckon with the past, the secrets they’ve held and the weight of their choices.
The Shape of Family is an intimate portrayal of four individuals as they grapple with what it means to be a family and how to move from a painful past into a hopeful future. It is a profoundly moving exploration of the ways we all seek belonging — in our families, our communities and ultimately, within ourselves.
When we initially meet the Olander family, Keith is a hardworking and up-and-coming investment banker, Jaya is the mother from a privileged background, their tween daughter Karina is finding it difficult to straddle not quite being Indian and and not quite being American enough for either side in looks or temperament, and young Prem is the golden son who doesn’t have quite the same difficulties as Karina in terms of fitting in, simply adores his big sister, and wants everyone to be happy. In just a few years, Jaya is back to be working full-time, Karina is in middle-school and bears the responsibility of taking care of her brother for two hours after school every day. Then the unimaginable happens and the Olander family slowly shatters. In just a few more years, Keith and Jaya have divorced, and Karina has been self-harming just to carry on through her pain. Karina hopes that college will be a new beginning for her and initially it is and she finds friends and companionship with her roommate. She even finds a boyfriend. When that relationship falls apart, Karina turns to a part-time job, befriends a charmer from her job, ends up her dropping out of school and living with the “charmer” and others on a commune, helping to grow “medical marijuana.” Meanwhile, her mother has turned Prem’s childhood bedroom into a home temple and is following a guru around California and even visiting India for a month at a time to revitalize herself spiritually. Keith has left his big investment bank and is at a smaller firm but even he seems to floundering with his young girlfriends, ever-increasing drinking, and questionable trades. It seems as if Prem was the literal and figurative glue that held that Olander family together and without his presence, they are all falling apart in their grief and search for happiness. Can these three people find their way back to a life filled with purpose, togetherness, and happiness before it’s too late?
I wish I could say that I read The Shape of Family in one sitting, but I had to take a few breaks over the course of the day because this story packs quite an emotional punch. Keith, Jaya, Karina, and Prem had my emotions all over the place and I used up my last box of tissues (and the closest drugstore is empty due to COVID-19; we won’t even discuss the situation at the grocery store). This story is told in alternating perspectives and the reader even hears from Prem after his death and that’s what had me bawling like a baby and having to stop (my eldest brother died 25 years ago and I’d really like to think he’s still here with me like Prem but that’s a whole other story). Although I was deeply moved by Jaya and Keith’s stories — I can’t imagine the pain and loss a parent deals with the loss of a child — I often wanted to shake them because I felt they were ignoring Karina and only there superficially. Karina’s story is the one that touched me the most. This child felt guilty over the loss of her brother, suffered a sexual assault as an underclassman on campus, had to deal with a charmer that seemed to be a little “too good to be true” in the end, and comeback from a breakdown. There’s a lot happening in this story and this isn’t a story for those of you with emotional triggers (the sexual assault isn’t graphically described just hinted at but that may be enough for some people) and there are people dealing with a host of issues from physical abuse to recovery from drug abuse. Ms. Gowda has taken a story about one family, inserted a tragedy, and made it into a timely tale of getting lost in grief over the loss of a family member, anger and guilt at not being able to do anything to change the facts of that loss, despair over being left behind, loneliness from being left behind, not quite fitting in, quests for success, and more. To say that this book moves beyond family drama is a major understatement. The Shape of Family is a powerful and emotionally moving story and one that I’m incredibly glad I read. I won’t tell you if this family ultimately finds peace, you’ll just have to discover that for yourself. Although this may not be suitable for everyone given the emotional triggers, it is going on my recommended read list for this year. I hope you’ll add this to your TBR list and that you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. If you’ve never read anything by Ms. Gowda, I encourage you to grab a copy of Secret Daughter and The Golden Son along with The Shape of Family to read. You can thank me later. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Gowda in the future and will probably be re-reading The Shape of Family when I have a surplus supply of tissues handy.
Happy Reading, y’all!
Meet The Author
|Photo by Stacy Bostrom
Shilpi Somaya Gowda was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Her previous novels, Secret Daughter and The Golden Son became international bestsellers, selling over one million copies worldwide. She holds an MBA from Stanford University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was a Morehead-Cain scholar. She lives in California with her husband and children.