I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
When tragedy befalls a family, blame and grief widen the cracks and isolate the remaining members. A mother who misses her culture, a father who is a workaholic, and a daughter who is searching for an outlet for the pain. The Shape of Family is an intimate portrayal of how lost someone can get when a loved one is taken away and how families can grieve together and separately, trying to find their way back to one another.
Everyone in her family had their secrets, and Karina became practiced at keeping them.
Utilizing first person povs, The Shape of Family, jumps povs and time periods (mostly linearly) between Jaya (mother), Keith (father), Karina (daughter/sister), and Prem (son/brother). The story starts introducing the family through Karina's eyes and we learn that she sees it as Prem and her against the world. With an Indian mother and American father, kids at school constantly remark on her skin tone. Her mother is proud of her culture, while Karina sees any hallmark of it as another way to make her different. She's a bit closer to her father because of this issue and while she has a bestfriend Izzy, Karina ultimately sees Prem as the only one who can feel like her and understand.
This sets-up the emotional foundation for when a couple chapters later, Prem drowns in the family pool. Karina is thirteen at the time and watching him while her parents are at work, she performs CPR but is unable to save him. The guilt she feels from this is obvious and as readers follow her throughout her life, this tragedy and guilt is apparent in every decision she makes. We get povs from her parents, Jaya's guilt sends her searching for answers, which she looks for in religion, and Keith's guilt at his inability to keep his wife from depression and daughter from pushing him away has him throwing himself more into his work. The story though, mainly follows Karina.
“Mr. and Mrs. Olander,” the officer says as they reach the top landing, her hand on the door handle. “I'm not sure what's happening with your daughter. All I know is she needs your love and support right now.”
Karina tries to handle her grief through cutting but when she goes off to college, she finds relief in becoming a new person, no one knowing about Prem. This pushing away and ignoring those emotions works for awhile, until her first love ends up being her first heartbreak and she once again is lost as to how to deal with her pain. Her vulnerability is taken advantage of and Karina finds, what she thinks of as love and family, in a commune with increasingly cult like actions.
This was a poignant dip into how grief can affect a family individually and as a whole. While we get pov looks into how Jaya and Keith are handling their son's death, I thought there could have been more between the two; they divorce and I thought we missed reading/feeling some of that emotional upheaval. Readers also get Prem's pov after he dies and I'm not sure this worked for me. Except for a crossroads moment towards the end, his pov didn't add anything for me and I think having him completely absent would have made the characters stark cut-off even more felt to the reader.
They are flawed, all three of them, but they belong to each other.
Whims of fate, Keith ended up surviving 9/11 because of a delayed meeting but their son drowns in the family pool, and the fact that there is no set time on how long grief can keep a hold of you, were achingly apparent in this story. The way the characters tried to fill their lives with things that turned out to be empty for them and beginning to see that acknowledging, addressing, and processing their emotions through therapy was helpful to them, was deep and thoughtful. The Shape of Family will have you shedding a tear or two as the Olander family rides the waves of grief.