Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: Karma by Cathy Ostlere

Title: Karma
Author: Cathy Ostlere
# Of Pages: 528
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: March 31, 2011
Level: Young Adult
Rating: 3 Hearts


(From Amazon.com)

It is 1984, and fifteen-year-old Maya is on her way to India with her father. She carries with her the ashes of her mother, who has recently committed suicide, and arrives in Delhi on the eve of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination - one of the bloodiest riots in the country's history.

Then Maya is separated from her father and must rely upon the help of a mysterious, kindhearted boy, Sandeep, to safely reunite them. But as her love for Sandeep begins to blossom, Maya will have to face the truth about her painful adolescence . . . if she's ever to imagine her future.

My Verdict

Karma is definitely the most complex and thought provoking novel-in-verse I’ve read to date.

Set in 1984 the story starts in Canada but the majority of it takes place in India. The story focuses on fifteen-year-old Maya who is half Hindu, half Sikh. Her parents wed against both families’ wishes and both of their beliefs.

After Maya’s mother commits suicide, her and her father travel to India to spread her ashes. While there, terror rocks the nation when the Prime Minister is murdered and all chaos breaks loose. Sikhs are now being hunted down and brutally murdered.

Caught up in the middle of this bloody massacre, Maya’s father abandon’s her to find help. Scared and alone, Maya is forced to try and survive on her own, find her father, and make it back home.

Cathy’s use of free verse and poetic way with words made for a beautifully told story, with descriptions that could take your breath away. I found myself tucking little scraps of paper into pages as I read marking my favorite passages.

The pilot steers along ribbons of light. Green
polar flames rippling in the dark. Long silken
scarves floating on the air. It’s like watching the
wind on fire. Pulsing.

I stand up. Stretch my arms out wide to the
empty horizon. Do not be afraid of limitless
possibilities. The desert is infinite to the eye
as love is to the heart.

The dream-sky is perfect black. The moon in shadow like a
shy girl hiding behind her mother’s skirt. Yet the
atmosphere hums. Then pulses with light. The pilot
strings the stars together with green ribbons.

The story is told from the perspectives of three different personal journals; Maya’s diary, Sandeep’s notebook, and Jiva’s journal.

The thing that bothered me most was that many of the characters had multiple names, which got confusing at times. I’m not sure if one was the name and one was the word for mother or father? I’m not really sure, all I know is it was confusing.

  • Maya/Jiva
  • Leela/Mata
  • Amar/Bapu
  • Pavarti/Deedi
  • Sandeep/Miraj
  • Barindra/Pita
  • Amma/Mina

The other thing that threw me off at times was the use of different fonts and italics to indicate conversation and dialog, leaving me unsure if some things were being spoken or just thought.

While the first half of the book flew by as the momentum built, the story really started to slow down in the second half and you could really feel those last 250 pages.

Objectionable content warning: There are a number of instances with upsetting and brutal violence that would be too much for young readers.


  1. The characters having multiple names would definitely be confusing for me as well, but other than that this story sounds amazing! I haven't read any books written in verse, and based on the above quotes I think I would really like it. The cover of this book is absolutely stunning I think, I want it on my shelf immediately!

    1. I can't believe you haven't read any books in verse! They are my favorite! =) I'm glad you enjoyed the quotes, I was only going to include one but I loved them all so much I couldn't pick and just put them all, haha.

  2. Wow -- I 'd never heard of this and it sounds like the kind of thing I'd love, so ...thanks!

    Russian literature often has the same multiple name problem. In college when I took Russian Lit, I remember keeping a list so that I could figure out who was doing what...

    1. Glad I could introduce you to something new! =)

      Russian Literature must have been intense! Keeping a list is a great idea. Next time I read a book like this I'll have to remember to do that!

  3. Thanks for sharing. Have not heard about this novel. I want it! We adopted our son from Pondicherry, India in 1985. This sounds a bit historical fiction too -- along with verse. I love to delve into the Indian culture. Great review.

    1. Hi Pat, I think you would definitely enjoy reading this book! Your right, this is categorized as historical fiction, as the assassination of the Prime Minister and riots that followed really did happen. I was not familiar with Indian culture at all before this book and really learned a lot from it.

  4. Aww, thanks Caitlin! I'll head over and check out the details =)

  5. Enjoyed your review! I've never read a book written in free verse before, but the quotes you shared were beautiful! Don't know if I'd be able to keep everyone straight though if they have multiple names, as having more than one narrator can be confusing enough. Thanks for sharing!

    My Saturday Situation

    1. Hey Alexia,
      I would encourage you to give it a try! Free verse is a very beautiful format (as you saw from the quotes). It was a little bit of a struggle to keep up with the multiple names but I'm sure you could do it! =) Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!


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