Category Archives: The Shape of Family

Review: The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Title: The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


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 Shape of Family is a novel about race and culture, parents and siblings, marriage and love, but most of all, it’s about finding hope after darkness. Shilpi Somaya Gowda is a compassionate and wise storyteller who keeps us riveted from beginning to end.” — Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Translation

The Olander family embodies the modern 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.


Spanning several years, The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is a deeply affecting novel about a family’s grief following a tragedy.

Keith and Jaya are long-married with two children, daughter Karina and son Prem. Keith works is in the financial  sector and he works long hours to provide for his family. Jaya is originally from India but as a diplomat’s daughter, she lived in many different countries. Karina is a typical teen who is stretching her wings and pulling away from her parents. Prem is a joyful child whose antics delight his family. The Olanders are close-knit but after a tragic accident, they are set adrift.

In the aftermath of a heartrending loss, Keith struggles to fully express his grief.  But as he returns to work, he is grateful for the normality of his days. Jaya is deeply depressed yet eventually immerses herself in the Hindu religion. Karina strives for perfection and turns to self-harm in order to cope. Prem is observant and wise as he watches his family fall apart.

Karina is the easiest character to empathize  with as she sets her sights on doing well in school in order to escape to college.  She has never quite felt like she fits in and she is certain she will feel differently at college. It takes a while for her to feel comfortable and Karina even takes a risk on love. But she eventually makes a questionable decision that could have long lasting repercussions.

Jaya essentially checks out and leaves her family to cope on their own. Her mother’s visit renews her long ignored spirituality and Jaya takes deep solace in prayer. Jaya finds peace through the teachings of a popular Hindu guru.  She becomes so wrapped up in herself she fails to notice Karina has more or less abandoned the family.

With little else in his life, Keith  becomes even more dedicated to his career. After achieving much desired business goals, he makes a fateful choice that puts him in a precarious situation. As Keith contemplates his fate, he begins to question whether or not he has made the right decisions. He too is preoccupied and fails to notice Karina has gradually drifted away.

Throughout the story, Prem continues watching his family and cataloguing their changes. He is surprisingly perceptive as he analyzes what he sees. He clearly sees their mistakes and missteps but Prem is unable to guide them back to one another.

The Shape of Family is an emotionally compelling novel. The characters are well-developed yet flawed and it is difficult to watch them make ill-fated decisions. Shilpi Somaya Gowda brings this somewhat sorrowful novel to an uplifting conclusion that will warm readers’ hearts. A touching novel that I recommend to fans of the genre.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fiction, Rated B, Review, Shilpi Somaya Gowda, The Shape of Family, William Morrow