2020 Book 106: THE SHAPE OF FAMILY by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

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.






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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!



Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+ as well as a print copy from the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”




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.




Find out more about Shilpi at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.





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2016 Book 25: THE GOLDEN SON by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda 
ISBN: 9780062391452 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062391476 (ebook)
ASIN: B00X3N8SIM (Kindle edition)
Publication date: January 26, 2016 
Publisher: William Morrow


Anil is the cherished son of a large family in rural India. As the eldest boy, he is expected to inherit the role of leader of his clan and arbiter of its disputes, dispensing wisdom and good advice. Leena is his closest companion, a fiercely brave girl who loves nothing more than the wild terrain they inhabit and her close-knit family. As childhood friends, they are inseparable—but as adulthood approaches, they grow apart.

Anil is the first person in his family to leave India, the first to attend college, the first to become a doctor. Half a world away in Dallas, Texas, he is caught up in his new life, experiencing all the freedoms and temptations of American culture: he tastes alcohol for the first time, falls in love, and learns firsthand about his adopted country’s alluring, dangerous contradictions. Though his work in a gritty urban hospital is grueling, Anil is determined to carve out his own life in America.

At home, Leena dreams of marriage, a strong and true love like the one shared by her parents, and leaves her beloved home to join her new husband’s family in a distant village.

Then things start to go wrong: Anil makes a medical mistake with tragic results, his first love begins to fray and a devastating event makes him question his worth as a doctor and as a friend. On a visit home, Anil rekindles a friendship with the woman who seems to understand him better than anyone else. But their relationship is complicated by a fateful decision made years earlier.

As the two old friends discover each other again, they must also weigh the choice between responsibility and freedom, and between loyalty and love. 


Anil has been looking forward to his medical training in America but comes to realize that his training is going to be much harder than he had imagined. He begins to enjoy many of the freedoms offered and even has a girlfriend for the first time in his life. While Anil is enjoying all that America has to offer, including racism and prejudice, his childhood friend is dealing with the worst that marriage has to offer back home in India. Both Anil and Leena must deal with massive disappointments in The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.

Anil has always been the favored son, primarily because he is the eldest, and because he showed such promise in school. Although his family is held in high regard in rural India, outside of his village, Anil is just another intelligent and educated Indian male. Anil knows that he has to live up to his parent’s expectations and he strives to be the best he can be. His struggle to succeed hits a wall during his internship and residency training in America. He begins to second-guess his decisions and constantly worry that he might say or do the wrong thing. The one good thing he’s experienced in America is his friendships with his roommates and his relationship with his girlfriend, Amber. Anil’s life takes a dramatic turn after his father’s death. He becomes the person responsible for arbitrating disputes in his family’s rural area, even doing so by phone. Anil struggles with the responsibilities of being an arbiter and a resident. While Anil is dealing with life in America, Leena is dealing with married life in India. Her husband’s family showed themselves to be wealthy and respectable people. After her marriage, Leena learns that the family lives in a home that requires numerous repairs and all they wanted was a live-in servant. She works around the clock preparing food, cleaning the house, and washing clothes. Her in-laws begin to extort money and more from Leena’s parents when they speak of their dissatisfaction with Leena’s abilities. Cutoff from her family and treated horribly from her in-laws, Leena begins to wonder if she can endure and survive. Tragedy strikes for both Leena and Anil and they must make decisions that will have repercussions for themselves, their friends, and their families.

I found The Golden Son to be a fast-paced and wholly enjoyable read. Yes, there are some tragic events that take place in the story, but the overall story is about becoming not only self-aware but self-assured. I enjoyed the parallel stories of Leena and Anil, as well as how the stories intersect with their childhood friendship, Leena’s friendship with Anil’s sister, and the fact that both families are from the same village. There’s another intersection that occurs due to money and advice, but you’ll need to read the story to learn about this one. Ms. Gowda has an amazing ability to craft characters and stories that pull this reader in, to the point where I become invested and want to learn more about the characters and what happens next. The Golden Son vividly portrays the struggle of an immigrant to America, as well as the struggle to continue to adhere to familial and cultural values and mores. If you enjoy reading stories about love, loyalty, and family then you’ll definitely want to read The Golden Son. If you’ve read Secret Daughter then you’ll want to add The Golden Son to your TBR list. If you’ve never read anything by Ms. Gowda then I strongly urge you to read both Secret Daughter and The Golden Son. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Gowda in the future.


Watch the book trailer:



Read an excerpt here.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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The Golden Son: A Novel