THE SHAPE OF FAMILY by Shilpi Somaya Gowda


Email this review


After calamity strikes, the members of the Olander family struggle to find their paths back to each other.

The children of an American father and an Indian mother, Karina and Prem Olander have learned to stick together. Thirteen-year-old Karina defends Prem, 8, from school bullies and even walks hand in hand with him on the way home, but she wants her time alone, too. Pushing Prem away one afternoon so that she can spend time trying on makeup and talking to her best friend, however, leads to a deadly accident. With each chapter telling the story from a different family member’s perspective, Gowda (The Golden Son, 2016, etc.) traces the fallout lines with compassion and a keen eye for the lies we tell ourselves to avoid facing our own demons. While Prem watches from someplace after death, his and Karina's parents split up, with their father, Keith, submerging himself in his work in the financial industry and making some ethically questionable decisions. Their mother, Jaya, drifts away from everyone, rediscovering her spirituality, spending hours in ritualized prayer, building a temple in the family's home, and following the teachings of a prominent Hindu guru. With Prem’s chapters underdeveloped, Gowda focuses primarily on Karina, tracing her spiral first into depression and then into self-destructive behavior. Once she leaves for college, Karina is primed to fall in love, to be betrayed, and to find solace at the Sanctuary. A communal farm headed by the charismatic Micah, the Sanctuary offers Karina meaningful work surrounded by people who embrace her, bearing witness to her sense of guilt. But as Karina begins to suspect that Micah may not be quite who he claims to be, Gowda ratchets up the tension, shifting gears into a thriller late in the game, setting in motion the family’s reunion.

A deft, patient portrait of grief.

Pub Date: March 17th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-06-293322-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Custom House/Morrow
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2020