Cover Image: The Shape of Family

The Shape of Family

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Member Reviews

I want to thank NetGalley, the publisher and the author for giving me the opportunity to review this book.  I admit in my joy at joining NetGalley I may have been overzealous in my requesting numbers.  As this book has already been published, I am choosing to work on the current upcoming publish date books in my que.  As I complete those I will work on my backlogged request and will provide a review at that time.  I again send my sincere thanks and apologies.
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From Shilpi Somaya Gowda, the bestselling author of SECRET DAUGHTER and THE GOLDEN SON, comes THE SHAPE OF FAMILY, a poignant, painful and unforgettable novel about how one family falls apart --- and comes back together --- following a life-changing tragedy.

The Olanders are a family of the world: Jaya is the daughter of an Indian diplomat and dancer, and Keith is an ambitious and savvy banker from middle-class America. When the two met in a London pub in 1988, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but it certainly was something. Now the two share a quiet suburban life in California with their two children: teenager Karina and their young son, Prem. Where Karina is steadfast and serious, Prem is lighthearted and joyful.

Told in alternating points of view, THE SHAPE OF FAMILY bounces from month to month, highlighting poignant moments in the Olander home --- from squabbles between Jaya and Keith to Keith’s life at work, Karina’s bouts with bullies and even Prem’s love of swimming. Set against a post-9/11 backdrop, their narratives are influenced, shaped and motivated by the world around them, even as they strive to maintain their familial bonds.

And then the unthinkable happens. One day, while Karina is supposed to be watching her brother for the two hours after school before their mother comes home, Prem sneaks out to the pool and drowns. Though Karina discovers him, she is 20 minutes too late, and he does not survive. Missing their shining light, the Olander family begins to dissolve.

Karina is sent reeling by the guilt she feels at letting her brother drown; Jaya believes she has failed as a parent by allowing her children to live unsupervised for those two fateful hours; and Keith, unable to help his wife or daughter, throws himself into his work, the one place where he feels normal again. As is common in families that have lived through tragedy, the Olanders begin to distance themselves from one another, most notably when it comes to Jaya. Even though she still has Karina to love and care for, Jaya is inconsolable, often remaining in bed until Keith returns home late at night, forcing Karina not only to cope with her guilt and grief alone, but to practically raise herself. Isolated and terrified, Karina makes her own dinners, buys her own feminine products, and picks up a dangerous hobby in the form of self-harm. When Keith finally divorces Jaya two years after Prem’s death, the family is forever splintered --- and it is Karina who suffers the most.

Continuing to alternate between Jaya, Keith, Karina and even Prem, Gowda invites readers into the full depths of the Olander family’s pain and dissolution. Jaya dedicates herself to religion with a fervor and zeal that border on insane. Keith becomes a workaholic, believing that all will be well as long as Jaya and Karina never have to worry about money. Poor Karina flees for college, a place where she believes she can make a new family that can help her heal. Unfortunately, each of them is so accustomed to lying about and hiding their pain that they prevent themselves from moving forward in a real, meaningful way. Once again, no one is more harmed by this repression than Karina.

As she settles into college life, once again feeling like an outsider, Karina becomes the star of the novel. Gowda writes her pain and guilt so beautifully that it reads like poetry; her story is heartbreaking, and she simply cannot catch a break. So used to hiding herself and her emotions, Karina struggles to make and maintain friendships, and though she enters her first serious relationship, she throws herself into it too fully and ultimately sabotages her chance at happiness. Soon after, she meets Micah, a handsome and charming young man who seems to truly see her and her pain, but he, too, is hiding something dark and menacing. Magnetic and manipulative, Micah sees through to Karina’s loneliness --- not only from the loss of Prem, but from the loss of her family --- and plays upon it. He invites her to the so-called Sanctuary to meet his “family,” a found group of emotional orphans who cohabitate on a giant, self-sustaining farm. Though the results are shocking and devastating, they may be the Olander family’s last chance to reconnect.

Punctuating Jaya’s, Keith’s and Karina’s journeys with brief overviews from Prem’s perspective, Gowda highlights not only how the Olander family has fallen apart, but how they have lost themselves. As Prem astutely observes from the afterlife, “[Each] person is reaching, stretching their arms and wiggling their fingers as much as possible, but there are still giant gaps between them. And they don’t have anyone to ask for help….”

Gowda’s descriptions of their grief, coping mechanisms and bad decisions are as compassionate as they are profound. This is clearly a writer who has studied the full spectrum of human emotion, but even more impressive is her ability to render it so beautifully on the page. She never once dulls the intensity of her characters’ emotions, but still manages to make them palatable, digestible and, through it all, universal. This is by no means a novel for the faint of heart --- the emotions held within are too strongly felt, too expertly rendered --- but it is one that will resonate deeply with anyone who has felt the crushing weight of guilt, grief or isolation.

This is my first time reading one of Gowda’s works, but I have already purchased her entire backlist and plan to continue following her. If THE SHAPE OF FAMILY is any indication of her talent, I know that I have found a new favorite author.
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If you like familial emotional dramas this book is for you. Again, A tearjerker. It is about a family called the Olanders. Mom, dad, two kids, living the dream. Mom, Jaya is cultured and daughter of an Indian diplomat and she is married to Keith, an American banker. They meet in A bar and fall in love and start a family, living the American Dream. We all want it. They have two kids, Karina and Prem, daughter and son, respectively, and everyone is happy, until disaster strikes, as it usually does.

The family breaks apart or drifts apart, with mom turning to spirituality, dad throwing himself into his work. Karina, their daughter (who I identify with most) focuses on moving forward, leaving for college and looking towards the future, but finds herself going down the wrong path, and Prem, sweet Prem, their son, just wants everything to go back to happiness and normalcy.

In light of their tragedy, this is an inspiring and sometimes heart wrenching story of a family, trying to find their way back to each other, amidst tragedy. A great family story. 4 stars!

A special thanks to Harper Collins Publishers and NetGalley for my ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
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I read The Shape of Family hoping for an exploration of the varied terrain of marriages between different cultures. Keith is Midwest America personified and holds true to the capitalist dream as an investment banker. Jaya is the daughter of an Indian diplomat and is cultured and well-traveled. They have two children—Karina and Prem. Their marriage is a loving one until tragedy strikes their family.

I realize grief impacts everyone differently. I was prepared for that and I appreciated Jaya and Keith’s stories, even when I didn’t understand them. They felt real. Prem’s voice was also touching, in trying to cope with what’s happened to the people he loves. It is Karina’s path that lost me. It may be that it’s a subject/option that’s been played with a lot in recent years and so didn’t feel fresh or realistic, but it dragged the novel down.

I had hoped for depth in The Shape of Family, but instead it was a bit like A Good Neighborhood—a plot that kept expanding outward without ever digging down. A good option is you’re looking for outsized plot to keep you reading.
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Beautifully crafted story about a family tragedy and how grief can rip us apart.  Not giving any spoilers, because it is so well written you need to experience it.  Jaya and Kieth will stay with me for a long time....
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Meet the Olanders - Keith, Jaya, Prem and Karina.  The live happily together in California, the very picture of a loving family until tragedy strikes and Prem dies.  Thirteen-year-old Karina feels it is her fault, she was supposed to be watching him at the time and her parents are so buried in their grief that they cannot recognize how much she is hurting.  As time goes on, the family falls apart; Karina throws herself into her school work and earns a scholarship to she can escape any hold her family has over her.  Jaya and Keith divorce, each eventually becoming very different people who do not effectively parent Karina.  THE SHAPE OF FAMILY shows us how grief tears us from one another just when we need each other most.  The hole of a dead child can forever change the shape of the family.  Though all of it, Prem watches his family an narrates their grief.  Beautiful, moving and ultimately hopeful, THE SHAPE OF FAMILY is a wonderful read.
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For the first half of The Shape of a Family, I was a huge fan. It’s the story of a family who tragically loses their 6-year old son in a drowning accident. It was about what grief did to the three family members left behind, Karina, 11-years old, and her parents, Jaya and Keith. I particularly liked this part of the book because Gowda got it just right. When I was 18, we suddenly lost my younger sister and so I know from experience just how hard it is to push through your own grief while watching the ones you love also suffering through theirs. It very, very difficult to stay together and Gowda told that part of her story beautifully. Unfortunately, the second half of the book got a little out there for me and slowed the story down a lot. I did feel like it came back together in the end, and got back to it’s more authentic theme of a family and grief.

Note: I received a copy of this book from William Morrow (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest thoughts.
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This is a moving family drama that will rip your heart out and slowly put it back together. The story of the Olander family, who are raising their diverse family in California.

At the start of this story, you meet Jaya and Keith parents to Karina and Prem. They have what feels like an idyllic family but an event happens that will tear this family apart. At the crux of this story is Karina who believes that she is at fault for the now hole in her family.

As the years pass you will follow Jaya on her spiritual journey, Keith who puts his head down into his very successful career, Karina as she goes onto college, and Prem who can only watch what is happening around them.

What I find amazing in this book, as Karina comes to the crossroads in her life, her family will make decisions that will support and uplift her. This is not a perfect story, but it is perfect for depicting this very real feeling family. Life is not perfect and somehow the author has captured this and said everything is going to be ok.

Perfect for fans of the family drama genre. I just loved following this very imperfect family find a way to come together when family is absolutely needed most.

Thank you NetGalley and William Morrow for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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The Shape of Family is Shilpi Somaya Gowda's latest book. I enjoyed Shilpi Gowda's previous books, Secret Daughter and The Golden Son so I was really excited to read The Shape of Family. The Shape of Family was such a heartbreaking book. First and foremost, there are some trigger warnings to be keep in mind before reading this book: death of a loved one, suicide, toxic relationships, and depression. After reading the first 10% of the novel, I had to put the book down for a bit because it was so emotionally heavy. That first part of the book is important and I understand the intention behind it as it affects the storyline throughout the rest of the novel, however, there doesn't seem to be much lightness after that. However, the author's writing style is captivating from page one and is a page turner throughout the novel. There were a few scenes in the book that truly resonated with me.  admire the author for being able to write in a way that made me think of this book long after I read it. One of the reasons I gave this book a 3 star rating was because of the alternating perspectives and the character depth. I found the male perspectives, Keith and Prem, to be unnecessary. I felt that Jaya and Karina's perspectives had the most depth and kept the story moving along. Personally, Secret Daughter is my all-time favorite so far. If you decide to read this book, I recommend to read the synopsis before you dive in so you can be emotionally prepared and know the trigger warnings in advance.
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I was provided a free ARC of this by @netgalley in exchange for my honest review. 
The story is about the struggles and triumphs of a family who goes through an unthinkable tragedy. Each member of the family must learn to deal with their grief but also realize how their own actions in that grief have an effect on all of them. I thought the story was well told, and I definitely felt many of the feelings the characters were going through. I felt it dragged a bit in the middle, but maybe that was intentional, to portray the dragging through life some people going through grief face. I felt the ending was strong, and really liked how we left the family. Life never returns to "before", but that doesn't mean you can't have a good "after". 
#TheShapeOfFamily #NetGalley
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The book started with this gut wrenching trauma that caught my attention and propelled me into the family's story. As it went on, however, I just found there was too much drama heaped onto a character - and sometimes just surface level - as if anything else was needed to justify her situation.

I did like the characters and their relationships. The book was an easy read, told in alternating voices.
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I absolutely love Shilpi Gowda's writing. I don't think there is anything of hers I have read that I disliked. Hence, I went into reading this book with the expectation that I would like it, and it did not let me down.

It did have a somewhat different feel, or tone, to me than her other books, but it was no less interesting or engaging to read.  Karina's pain and guilt over the loss of Prem broke my heart and I found the journey of the family through their grief to be believable.. as much as we would like to think that we would "get" each other and grieve similarly, I think that is likely not the case. It is hard to comfort someone else when your own heart is breaking.

Wherever Ms Gowda goes, I will follow. She is that good!

4.5 stars

Review posted to Goodreads.
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I liked the characters and writing style, especially Prim’s first person narrative sections. Though I wished it had been more explored, I liked Izzy and Karina’s friendship. There were some touching moments between the family members.

Unfortunately, the second half of the book decreased in quality. The characters make irrational decisions; these plot points feel like they were added only to prolong the suffering of the main characters. The commune chapters stall the pacing and aren’t interesting.
While I have mixed emotions about certain aspects of the novel, I did still enjoy reading it.
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This is my first Shilpi Somaya Gowda novel, and now I’m going to add her other books to my TBR!

The Shape of Family is the story of the Olanders, a picture perfect American Dream style family living in California. Keith has his hard work and tenacity to thank for his well-paid investment banking job, Jaya grew up travelling the world with her Indian diplomat parents, and their kids Karina and Prem are about 8 years apart and seemingly well-adjusted to life. But then tragedy strikes and it breaks the family apart in ways that no one could anticipate.

The narrative takes place over time, hopping back to early days in Keith and Jaya’s relationship in 1988, but mainly staying along a line between 2007 to 2016. The narrative also contains 4 distinct voices (Keith, Jaya, Karina, and Prem), which provides the reader with viewpoints and perceptions from each character - this is super important and also very helpful, because meaningful communication between the family members becomes quasi non-existent, each member wrapped in their on personal journey. 

Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s writing felt nearly dreamlike to me - each sentence felt weightless but at the same time so meaningful, easy to read but undeniable beautiful. 

I related to Karina and the choices she makes in her life a lot. In a way I saw a lot of me as a teenager and a young adult, curling herself up around her trauma. I wanted to shake Jaya at times, but also understood her, and I felt as though Keith’s never fully followed through with his good intentions. Basically each character is relatable, flawed, and convincing. That’s what I loved the most about this novel - everything is just so believable, and a sign that things are often not the the way they seem on the outside.

I just want to hold this book to my heart and keep it there - it touched me so much in so many ways.

This is a solid 4.5 stars for me and I’m looking forward to discovering more of the author’s work! Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This book really left me wanting from the fist sentence. Just too predictable, the characters were not believable, very one  dimensional. . At no point did it hold my interest. Very disappointing.
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Did not finish. This book is about unimaginable grief and the way it affects a family. I had a difficult time reading this but when It got to the commune that Katrina was living on I lost interest. I read about 60%. I enjoyed previous books by this author and I will read try her again. I did not post this on Goodreads.
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I really enjoyed The Secret Daughter and The Golden Son by this same author, so I was really excited to read this recent release.

Keith, Jaya, Karina, and Prem Olander are like any other family, they have their share of squabbles but are overall happy. Then a tragic accident changes everything. How each person copes in the aftermath and throughout the coming years is the basis of the book. 
The story alternates between each character's point of view which I appreciated. However, I felt as if the book really dragged and it took me a while to finish it. I never felt a connection with any of the characters. I especially disliked Jaya's character, especially in the beginning. For a woman as educated and worldly as Jaya, with parents that are described as so open minded, it amazes me she refuses therapy. I was angry for Keith and Karina. I can't assume to know what it's like to be in Jaya's position, but I hope that I'd remember to be a mother and wife again at some point, it's selfish to assume you are the only one in pain. Later, she so nonchalantly suggests therapy like it's not a big deal. 
I appreciated how the characters grew and found their way back to each other at the end. There were several moments that brought me to tears.The strength and love of family and learning to move on after tragedy was the core message of this story. 
Thank you to @Netgalley and @HarperCollins for the advance review copy of this book
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This was an heartbreaking story of a family separated by a tragedy and then brought together again by another tragedy of sorts.  It is narrated by the members of the Olander family, older daughter Karina, the younger brother Prem and parents Jaya and Keith.  They are a strong family unit until a very sad tragedy strikes them and affects them in different ways, driving them apart on their own paths to healing.  It is sad to watch them each live their life alone while still carrying each of the rest of their family members in their hearts along the way.  Karina grows up and makes many bad choices but does learn from her mistakes and manages to eventually make peace with what happened in her past.  Her parents both seem a little lost as well and are definitely out of touch with what she has gone through to get to where she is in her young adult life.  Beautifully written at a slow pace while unfolding into an amazing story describing the real strength and love shared in a family.  Definitely do not miss this fabulous book!!
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I was in full tears....11% into this novel.
What is it about novels within the first 10% or 11% that punches me so hard in
the gut...that I have to stop reading and compose myself?
Old memories came flooding back. 
     A child dies early in this book.
I had a cousin who died the same way - at the same age- many years ago, as the child did in this novel. 
A very tragic death.

Moving on....
More painful scenes continued ...
followed by ongoing despondent prose.
Other than the emotional  devastation at the beginning....
it didn’t take long to see that the writing had that ‘cut-by-numbers’ crafting that I so tired of....a familiar formula.

The story has predictable dialogue stereotyping each of the characters. 

Jaya/mother says:
     “The prospect of letting her first born go into the world reminded her inescapably of the child who had left her a naturally years ago”.

Karina....( first born child)
        ...was looking forward to a fresh start.... moving away to college, making new friends, with hopes of no longer cutting herself in a new environment. 

Keith....
     “had been dating freely— though only for casual recreation—for years now” 

Prem says...
     “When I was alive...
“I liked being a pair with....
his sister, a pair with his mom, a pair his dad”... etc. 

The author shows us how each character, ( Keith, Jaya, Prem, and Karina), handled their grief and moved on. 
She examines different solutions:
Self-harm, obsessive working, a spiritual path, divorce, coming of age, and ‘time’... years moving on. 

Unfortunately- lightness  doesn’t comes flooding down the pipes.... rather it’s doled out in droplets....

It wasn’t only the content’s bleakness that was wearisome-
I’m not a fan of dead-children narrators. I felt as if the author included the dead boys point of view so that ‘readers’ could handle the grief of a young child dying.  
First we get a horrific tragedy - but then we get comforted by the person we’re hurting for?/!  It felt a little ( forgive me) > manipulate, directing our feelings, not trusting our own?/!  Not sure I’m communicating myself correctly... but I was very aware of what didn’t feel right. 
We got a play on emotions.
As if the child was saying:
“It’s cool, I’m ok.  I don’t blame anyone for my death....
yep, it’s cool, I’m cool 

Each family member was more heartbroken than angry. 
That we get! 
Our author must have the most loving sincere heart. Her care for her characters - comes through loud and clear.  
This story is based in realism ...
I appreciate the tenderness and honesty the writing comes from...but it lacked styling flair, freshness, and interesting character ranges. 

I probably just read too much...nothing was new for me... but I think many people will like this book...
about a family, tragedy, grief, moving on....

Thank you HarperCollins publishers, Netgalley, and Shilpi Somaya Gowda
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Shilpi Somaya Gowda is one of the authors where I anxiously look forward to their next book! So, I was very excited (and many thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins Publishers) to be able to read The Shape of Family before its publication date.
Once again, Ms. Gowda takes us on an interesting journey that explores grief, families and culture.
In this book, we meet the Olander family - mother, Jaya, is Indian and father, Keith, is white. Their cultural backgrounds are very different as were their families and the way they were raised. The two children, Karina and Prem, explore life through both parents’ perspectives, although not perhaps realizing it at the time.
We get a glimpse of their life before .... and then the bulk of the novel takes place after an earth shattering tragedy. Most of the book focuses on Karina, and I’m conflicted about this because I thought both parents were very interesting and wanted to explore their lives a bit more.
The Shape of Family, at its heart to me, was about grief and how differently each family member faced (or didn’t initially face) their own grief. It drew me in from the beginning and really was a wonderful book (although The Secret Daughter is still my favorite)!
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