Ostlere, Cathy. 2011. KARMA. New York: Penguin. ISBN 9781595143389. [Suggested Grade Levels 8-11]
This is a beautiful and moving free-verse tale of a Canadian girl, Maya (also called Jiva), who first visits her parents’ native India after the suicide of her mother. Maya and Bapu (her father) travel to New Delhi in October, 1984 to lay her mother’s ashes to rest. Unfortunately, at this same time the country falls into unrest after the assassination of the Prime Minister, and Maya and her father are separated. Maya witnesses terrible suffering and violence, and as a result becomes temporarily mute. While unable to speak, she meets Sandeep, an Indian boy who helps her and keeps her as safe as he can. The story then evolves from both of their voices, Maya and Sandeep alternating, each in his or her own diary.
It is difficult to create consistent page-turns and maintain interest for 500+ pages, yet Ostlere does just this as the reader is transported into Maya and Sandeep’s world. The free verse poems clearly convey plot, setting, and character development. Although the diary format is difficult to believe at times, Maya and Sandeep themselves are believable and likeable characters. The reader wishes nothing more than to know more about them and their lives.
Maya is half-Sikh and half-Hindu, her father being a Sikh and her mother a Brahmin. Their marriage was not accepted by either of their families. For a cultural connection, explore the differences and similarities between these two Indian religions. Also visit the author’s website at http://cathy-ostlere.com/ for background information about the author’s travels to India and how it influenced this story.
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By Sarah C. Dornback