The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (Review by Shelley Jomaa)

2 min read

Rating: 4.5 stars

The Shape of Family is a beautifully written story of family, love, grief, loss, connection, and belonging. It is a compelling and intensely heartbreaking story of the Olanders, whose lives are changed instantly following the tragic drowning of their beloved son and brother, Prem.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, each of Prem’s family members blames themselves for his death. His parents, Jaya and Keith, feel guilty for being at work instead of at home with their children at the time. His sister, Karina, blames herself for leaving him momentarily unattended while babysitting and for her unsuccessful attempt to save him.
The once cohesive family fragments as Jaya, Keith, and Karina attempt to cope with their guilt and grief alone. Jaya turns inward to spirituality to alleviate her pain, prioritizing prayer and meditation over her family. Keith alienates himself by focusing on his career and financial success.

Without emotional support from her parents, Karina bottles her pain inside. She struggles to fit in at school, and later experiences the heartbreak of a broken relationship. She channels her hurt and anger into her school work, and is determined to escape her broken home. In her desperate search for connection and belonging, Karina joins a commune. When her safety and well-being are compromised, the family is forced to face their pain together and learn to become a true family again.

I was deeply moved by this book. It has been awhile since reading a book that evokes such strong emotions, and I recommend reading this with a box of tissues close by. There is a small cast of well-developed characters, and I especially enjoyed the supernatural element of having some of the chapters told from Prem’s perspective. This
haunting story moves along quickly, and will stay with you for a long time. I will most definitely read this author’s two previous novels.

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