Full Reviews for Karma


Booklist

“After her Hindu mother’s suicide, 15-year-old Maya and her Sikh father travel from Canada to India for a traditional burial. The year is 1984, and on the night of their arrival in New Delhi, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated by her Sikh guards. When the city erupts in chaos, both Maya and her father find themselves in great danger. Through a sequence of horrifying events, father and daughter are separated, and Maya is left alone in a violent foreign country where she must rely on the help of strangers to reach safety. In her YA debut, acclaimed adult author Ostlere offers a riveting, historically accurate coming-of age tale of gutsy survival, self-sacrifice, and love. Set during a six-week period, the novel in verse makes the most of its lyrical form with lines of dialogue that bounce back and forth in columns across the page and singularly beautiful metaphors and similes that convey potent detail and emotion. With artful compassion, Ostlere reveals the infinitely complex clash of cultures within both India and Maya’s family, and although the allusions to karma could have seemed awkward in less talented hands, here they lead into well-framed larger questions that will stay with readers. A fascinating, epic page-turner.” —Frances Bradburn

VOYA Magazine

“Karma is a unique novel written in verse. Maya, a young girl half Hindu, half Sikh, travels to India with her father after a tragedy in her family. Reeling from this tragedy, Maya steps off the plane only to discover that Indira Ghandi, prime minister of India, has just been gunned down. The city of New Delhi is overcome with chaos and violence. Unfortunately, Maya and her father are separated and Maya begins an amazing and dangerous journey of survival and self discovery. She finds herself in dangerous situations, and sees horrific displays of violence. Maya is overcome with sadness, and fear because of all she has been through, so she stops speaking. Fortunately she is befriended by a female doctor and her family. Only with the help of their son and her diary does Maya find her voice, open her heart and understand, not only her family and her religion, but herself. This is wonderful historical fiction. Ostlere does a terrific job of transporting the reader to India, recreating this turbulent time in its history, and adding to the mystic of this country by writing the story in verse. It is made all the better because of the tender romance that entwines the story. This is a perfect novel for young adolescent girls who want to be swept away to a different time and place.” - Lona Trulove.

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“This novel in free verse recounts the story of Maya, a fifteen-year-old Indo-Canadian girl who, following her mother’s suicide, journeys with her father for the first time to her parents’ native India. Their arrival tragically coincides with the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards, and Maya’s father, a Sikh, leaves Maya alone while he goes out into the riots. As a desperate Maya departs for Delhi, she’s a witness to horrible religious violence that leaves her unable to speak. At the station, Maya is found by Dr. Patel, who opens her family home to Maya; at this point, the novel switches to the voice of Sandeep, Dr. Patel’s seventeen-year-old brother, who is commissioned to get Maya to find her voice again, and with whom Maya falls in love. There are many layers in this skillfully crafted novel, and the verse is rich with depth and emotion. The story is steeped in sadness as Maya first loses her mother, then her father, then finally her love, and the carefully selected words in the poems evoke her pain both directly and indirectly. Among other styles, Ostlere uses a two-voice format (one left-aligned, the other right-aligned, interwoven on the page) to great effect, whether the two voices are Maya’s competing thoughts or more literally two voices; particularly notable are the poems detailing Maya’s first impressions of India, wherein there are constantly voices shouting at her, creating a cacophony of the senses. This is a beautiful and breathtaking glimpse into one girl’s tragedy and perseverance, and the achingly stirring images created by its verses will remain with the reader long after its final poem.” - HM

School Library Journal

“This epic tale unfolds through the pages of alternating diaries from October 28th through December 16th, 1984. Yet countless layers peel off with the turn of each page, leading readers deeper into the rich and sometimes tortured history beneath the tale’s present. Fifteen-year-old Maya, half Hindu/half Sikh, has lived her entire life in rural Canada. Her family’s religion and ethnicity set them apart from their community, but also from one another. Maya’s name itself signifies the tension between her parents, lovers who forsook their families for each other, but who have lived in different states of mourning and regret since. Her given name is Jiva or “life,” yet her mother blasphemously calls her Maya or “illusion,” an insult to her Sikh father. Thus, when life and loss lead Maya and Bapu back to India at the time of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, they are plunged deep into a nation in bloody turmoil. Maya’s sense of otherness escalates dramatically as she is forced to consider it on a personal and near-universal scale. The middle diary belongs to that of Sandeep, with whom Maya experiences love, tragedy, ancestry, and loyalty at an intimate (yet physically innocent) level. The novel’s pace and tension will compel readers to read at a gallop, but then stop again and again to turn a finely crafted phrase, whether to appreciate the richness of the language and imagery or to reconsider the layers beneath a thought. This is a book in which readers will consider the roots and realities of destiny and chance. Karma is a spectacular, sophisticated tale that will stick with readers long after they’re done considering its last lines.” –Jill Heritage Maza, Greenwich High School, CT

Publishers Weekly

“This epic novel, written in free verse poems in a diary format, straddles two countries and the clash of Indian cultures in the tale of 15-year-old Maya. Raised in Canada, Maya is the product of a marriage between her Hindu mother and Sikh father, a union that upsets both families. Her 1984 trip to India with her father, after her mother’s suicide, thrusts her like into further chaos when her father disappears during riots that follow Indira Gandhi’s assassination. In her first YA novel, Ostlere (Love: A Memoir) makes Maya’s subsequent muteness believable in the wake of the many traumas she endures. Burdened with guilt over her parent’s fate, as well as that of a Sikh man burned alive in front of her, she asks, “ Is my silence unfounded too?/ No. I do not deserve to be found./ Or loved.” A family in a desert town takes Maya in, and 17-year-old Sandeep (who contributes kinetic, lovestuck journal entries) takes special interest in her. In contrast to the hatred, mistrust, and violence, the friendship-and then love-between Maya and Sandeep offers hope, rebirth, and renewal.”

Teen Reviews for Karma

“Cathy Ostlere’s new young adult novel Karma is a treat to read. It manages to capture Maya’s journey through self discovery, finding love, losing innocence and being dealt very difficult situations after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 and the problems that stem from it in a way that teens and adults can relate too. This book is unlike the majority of the young adult novels in the market today. It doesn’t hide what has happened. It doesn’t shy away from dealing with politics and religion. It doesn’t shy away from telling us that adults do make the wrong decisions while kids make the right one. It boldly embraces what the world was at that time and telling teens what has been done and showing that even though adults are older they aren’t really any wiser. It embraces the flaws of humanity and tries to help the next generation learn and make the better choices even if you get hurt. Karma itself is written beautifully. Being in verse makes it all the better. It doesn’t distract from the story it helps tell Maya and Sandeep’s story. Though Karma is different from all the other young adult books, that is what makes it special. Once I held it in my hands I couldn’t put it down. It took me one night to finish this book. The sheer beauty of it made me fall in love. Karma is a collection of words woven together to create an amazing read and journey for anyone to experience.” - Natalie, age 14


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