Book Review: Karma by Cathy Ostlere

Book Review:

Karma by Cathy Ostlere


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis


Category: Young Adult (YA) Fiction

Author: Cathy Ostlere

Format: Trade Paperback, 534 pages

Publisher: Razorbill (YA Imprint of Penguin Group Canada)

ISBN: 978-0-14-317472-1

Pub Date: January 3, 2012


Karma by Cathy Ostlere is about a young girl of two worlds, two religions, and two names. Maya/Jiva is the daughter of a Hindu mother and a Sikh father, who sought refuge and escape from cultural dishonour in India to find only cultural discrimination in Canada.

The embodiment of Maya/Jiva as the product of an interreligious marriage and daughter of two countries: an ancestral one and an inherited one, speaks of the displacement and liminality found in belonging to the peripheral, the outskirts of what is defined and acceptable—to always belonging to a place of in-between.

The book is literally written in poetic prose—a narrative of poems in diary form to share the story of Maya/Jiva’s experience and trauma regarding her mother, Leela’s feelings of isolation and loneliness as expressed in her mournful sonatas; and her father, Amar’s resolute belief in the opportunity of religious freedom and cultural acceptance in his new-found country as Indian immigrant, only to discover general skepticism, wariness, and gossip amongst the all-White Elsinore Canadian community.

Maya/Jiva’s “exotic” beauty and traditional sari only remind her of her “otherness” in regards to her Canadian peers: her best friend, Helen, and her infatuation found in the boy, Michael. But, that story is superficial compared to the traumatic event that leads her to return to India quite unexpectedly during the assassination if Indira Ghandi, the Prime Minister of India, on October 31, 1984 by two of her guards that were Sikh.

Indira Ghandi

Once there, Maya/Jiva must witness the cultural divide between religions, the violence that erupts when a nation mourns for revenge, and what it is to be silent in the face of unspeakable acts.

There is also a secondary story as told in diary form by Sandeep , son of “Amma” and Barinder, orphan of the desert. He is a sensitive, resilient, and passionate character that suffers from his own trauma, which has resulted in memory loss of his origins. He, too, becomes a figure of displacement, a catalyst to the lowering of his family caste because of his “illegitimacy.”

Together, Maya/Jiva and Sandeep must define for themselves their own terms of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation as a nation battles against its divided beliefs and their own personal choices.

This book was so mournful at times, I needed a break from the weight of its lamenting and grief. And yet, it was a simple, fast, and beautifully poetic read that far outweighed its sometimes overly dramatic, internal dialogue.

Though Maya/Jiva is the main character in the novel and the central focus of desire and contempt for most of the story, it is the character of Sandeep who redeems my faith in inclusion, hope, and integrity.

The political, religious, and racial subject matter is a serious one, but the context of love and adventure for two people who collide from two dark histories and differing cultures, speaks to the possibility of change and the sentimental idealism of youth.

Young readers, add this book to your collection. The cover design is as pretty as its language and as romantic as its sonatas and diary-form poems.


Zara’s Rating



A special thank you to Razorbill Publishers of Penguin Canada for providing me with a copy of the book for an unpaid, honest review.


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