Book Review: The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Posted April 1, 2020 by Asheley in review / 1 Comment

Book Review: The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya GowdaThe Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Published by William Morrow on March 17, 2020
Source: the publisher
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“Deeply involving….Rings so true.” — Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room

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.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


The Shape of Family is the story of the Olander family’s experiences with grief after tragedy.

I have had loss in the not-too-distant past, and that was the main reason that I picked up this book. I’ve moved far enough along in my own process of grief that I felt like I could handle seeing what the experiences of other people may be like. Grief crippled me for a long time and I was curious to see if my own experience comes anywhere close to that of the Olander family.

In some ways, I really felt what they were going through. Grief and the sadness comes in waves. It is not linear. So it is entirely possible to be extremely sad but have little spots of smiles or happy things sprinkled here and there. It is possible to feel two conflicting things at once. With this family, there were a few little glimpses of lighter times and maybe even some happiness for this family here and there, but they mostly experienced devastation for a while, and I could really feel that from them. I could also relate to the main character Karina in that we both experienced major feelings of guilt, although we took different paths to a positive outcome. I went to extensive grief counseling; Karina made decisions that made things much worse for her, and she held all of her feelings on the inside while her life came apart.

The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Where this story did not match my experience is this: everyone in this family chose different paths to take. They did not turn to one another in the aftermath. And every choice, at least for a while, seemed like it was bad, like the characters just weren’t themselves. Everyone completely changed their lives in the wake of the tragedy. They lived parallel lives but they did not talk about what they had experienced, what they were feeling, how they were doing. All throughout the story, I felt myself reacting outwardly to so much of what was going on in the lives of these characters, especially Karina.

I just wanted to reach into the story and move around things a bit so they would turn back to one another as a family. Ultimately the characters did make some positive progress by the end of the story, but it felt really stressful watching them get to that point. Mind you, this was not because of the writing, because the story flowed well and brought forth emotions and was easy to read. What I felt was because I wanted these characters to be okay and to be healthy in their lives and in their choices, and it just wasn’t something that I could help them with because I wasn’t IN the story with them.

I think that readers that love reading emotional stories and stories about multicultural families will enjoy this one. This is a good one to show how difficult it can be for people to experience grief and it shows that the process really is very personal for every person.


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About Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Shilpi Somaya Gowda Author Photo

Shilpi Somaya Gowda was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Her previous novels, Secret Daughter and The Golden Son became international bestsellers, selling over one million copies worldwide. She holds an MBA from Stanford University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was a Morehead-Cain scholar. She lives in California with her husband and children.

Photo by Stacy Bostrom


About Asheley

Asheley is a Southern girl. She loves Carolina blue skies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and NC craft beer. She loves all things history but prefers books over everything.

You can find her somewhere in North Carolina, daydreaming about the ocean.

Find Asheley on Litsy @intothehallofbooks!


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