Author: Cathy Ostlere
Release Date: March 31, 2011
Genre: Multicultural Fiction, Poetry, Teen/YA
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Maya is just 15 years old when her Hindu mother dies, and she travels with her Sikh father from Canada to India with her ashes. When they arrive, they find the country in turmoil: the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, has just been assassinated by her Sikh guards. Hindus and Sikhs are rioting and killing each other, and no one is safe. When Maya and her father are separated, she finds herself alone in a foreign and frightening country, unsure of where she can turn for help.
The first thing I discovered about Karma by Cathy Ostlere (besides the fact that it was about India, which is why I wanted to read it in the first place) was that it was written in verse. And I will admit that little tidbit almost made me skip over the book; after all, I figured a novel in verse would be difficult to read, and that I wouldn’t connect with the main character at all. But because the book sounded so interesting, I decided to persevere, and I am incredibly glad I did; not only was this book fascinating, but all my preconceived notions were in error.
Karma is lyrical and deft, beautiful yet very easy to read. Despite the length, the novel flowed very smoothly and it was quick. I had no trouble understanding what was happening, nor did I have any difficulty connecting with Maya. In fact, she was the highlight of the novel for me.
Maya is half-Sikh and half-Hindu, and as a result, the conflict that is raging all around her between the two religious groups is mirroring what is happening within her. She doesn’t know where her loyalties lie or whom she can trust. Even her name, the very clue to her identity, is uncertain - is she Jiya, the “official” name that her father pressed upon her, or Maya, the name her mother wanted to give her that she identifies with? It’s so eye opening to see what Maya feels inside reflected all around her with horrible violence.
The time period is tragic yet important in India’s history, and it’s fascinating to see it through the eyes of a fifteen year old. While that kind of violence would be horrific at any age, to see it so young really changes Maya. She falls mute, unable to speak because she is so racked with guilt over what she’s seen. She thinks she no longer deserves to speak - she is already carrying guilt over her mother’s death, after all. Ostlere does an incredible job making the reader feel like they are part of the narrative, immersed in this place of horrifying violence. The reader only wants Maya to return home, to find a place of safety, yet it’s unclear where that could be because she seems to be pushed against her will wherever she turns.
Karma was a fascinating, eye-opening coming-of-age novel, and I am so glad I gave it a chance. I realize novels in verse don’t exactly excite most people, but I urge you to try this book. You may not connect with it, but it’s possible you might, and you’ll be rewarded with an absolutely incredible story and a heartbreakingly real main character. This was really an amazing book and I can’t wait to see what Cathy Ostlere does next.