cover image The Shape of Family

The Shape of Family

Shilpi Somaya Gowda. Morrow, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-293322-5

Gowda’s evocative if predictable follow-up to The Golden Sun examines how a family deals with the loss of a child. In a California suburb, Karina spends her high school years blaming herself for the drowning death of her eight-year-old brother, Prem, when she was a preteen looking after him. Jaya, her mother, born in India but raised internationally as her diplomat father traveled the world, finds solace by returning to her Hindu religious roots. Karina’s father, Keith, a Lutheran-raised Philadelphian, buries himself in high-pressured financial work. Karina turns her misery inward, finding release in cutting herself and obsessing over school. While Gowda’s handling of teen self-esteem issues tracks a well-trodden path, a parallel between Jaya’s sudden dedication to an Indian guru and Karina’s involvement with a utopian commune after she goes off to college adds texture. Descriptions of the adversity faced by the children at school for being “mixed” are also done well. In chapters alternating among Karin, Jaya, and Keith, Gowda skillfully unpacks the family’s tension and trauma, though the conclusion comes too quickly, and mawkish entries narrated by Prem are a major drawback. No one but the reader hears the dead brother’s superfluous assurances that Karina wasn’t at fault for his death. There’s a lot of potential here, but too much of it is unmet. (Mar.)