Karma

I received Karma by Cathy Ostlere as a submission for the YABA and it was selected as an honour book.

This is one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve read since my undergrad. It’s in verse, with the narration and dialogue formatted in a unique and stylistic manner. If not executed correctly such a bold format would have taken away from the story, but Ostlere used it to enrich the text. In stark contrast to the last novel I read, Blood Red Road, the dialogue flowed naturally and it was always apparent who was speaking even without quotation marks.

This novel illustrates the difficulties of immigration from the perspective of a first generation Canadian. Maya is Indian to Canadians, and Canadian to Indians. She is always the outsider, and stands out in every culture she belongs to. Born to a Hindu mother and a Sikh father, Maya follows elements of both religions and cultures. Her mixed heritage puts her in grave danger when during her trip to India the Prime Minister is murdered, and the two cultures go to war on one another.

The book is marketed as a love story, and it does contain a compelling one,  but that is not what got my attention. The very nature of humanity is explored as Maya deals with survivor’s guilt. It not only places blame on the rioters who burn men alive and rape young girls, but on those who stand by and do nothing to stop it. Maya is justifiably frozen by fear as the horrors take place, but she later thinks about how many lives could have been saved if the bystanders spoke up. The denial of everything that happened by the government and so many people in the city is chilling, and leaves a lasting impression.

The snowball effect of hate, as the men fight an eye for an eye reminds me of the beautiful take on a nursery rhyme that plays at the beginning of the film Free Zone. Click this link and read the subtitles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuBo5z0fr8A

This would be a fabulous choice for a book club, because it deals with so many great discussion topics:

-identity

-prejudice/acceptance

-depression/mental illness/suicide

-poverty/ class systems

-apathy/denial

-family

I think this novel has much wider appeal than it’s hot pink cover shows. I think the cover is beautiful with the swirly fonts, but there is plenty in this novel that would appeal to boys, and I don’t believe many would pick this up.

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What Is Real?

*I received What Is Real as part of my CLA YABA jury duties

Reading this book made me feel like I was on drugs. I’ve never actually done drugs, mostly because I like to be in control and the out of control nature of being on them terrifies me. It also reminded me of being very sick, you know when you’re fever is so high you get delirious or you’re in so much pain you can’t really process anything else…those feelings I’m familiar with and so I had a hard time enjoying the book, it made me dizzy picturing things through Dex’s perspective.

“maybe we laughed so much, we used up our quota” (131)

The most notable thing about the plot is that the narrator is completely unreliable. He’s high most of the time, and even when you understand what he’s saying you can’t be sure what he’s seeing is real. He’s also a compulsive liar, lying to himself almost as much as to others. The way he loses himself in drugs and depression is expertly portrayed,

“I’m shedding pieces of me like someone with some kind of invisible leprosy”. (37)

I think it’s easy to sink into the sadness of his situation, to feel his dreams slipping away.

“Feral’s addiction erased me” (63)

Despite the fact that the book was too drug riddled for me to enjoy very much personally I respect Karen Rivers for fabulous writing. There are some haunted metaphors I don’t think I will forget.

“So she left Dad and became someone else, someone unrecognizable.She morphed as easily as a caterpillar. But we were the cocoon that had to be torn open so she could become some kind of creepy, unrecognizable butterfly, flying away.” (21)

The abandonment issues kids of divorced families feel are beautifully developed in this story.

“this shitty town felt like a sweater I’d outgrown years ago that I was trying to pull back on and it wasn’t working” (66)

It’s very difficult to move back to somewhere you were nostalgic about and discover it’s not quite the image in your mind.

“from the outside it looked like the school is vomiting kids in fits and starts, finally spitting out the last few stragglers and then leaning over, done” (85)

Dex’s unusual interpretations of school as he sits watching it from the outside are really interesting. There is a scene where he is too physically hurt and depressed to get out of his car, so he sits there the entire school day and is horrified by the fact that no one notices him there. Apathy is a prevailing theme, and the reader is left feeling sick at the idea of no one helping Dex, no one noticing when he stops talking because he’s too depressed to keep up appearances anymore, no one noticing Tanis’ scars. The lack of action about the abuse of foster kids and a teenage boy expected to care for his suicidal paralyzed father will be shocking to some but this is the idea, that we need to be shocked out of our apathy.

This novel is not for everyone. Not everyone will be able to handle the way it jumps around, the way Dex frames everything with his imaginary camera- distancing himself from his life by turning it into a movie. But it is masterfully done and I’m curious about other books River has written.