cover image for KarmaOstlere, Cathy. (2011) Karma. New York, NY: Razorbill

Plot Summary/Critical Evaluation:

I am skipping ahead to the evaluation so that I can say that no one should recommend this book ever.  I’m not saying it should be banned or burned or anything, I just really think everyone’s time would be better spent on a novel that wasn’t so obnoxiously appropriative.

The genesis of the story alone is disturbing, not to mention how much it’s mentioned in the fore and afterwords.  Ostlere was on an extended tour of various parts of the world when she found herself in India during the destruction and death that followed Indira Ghandi’s assassination.  As she puts it: “My short-lived love affair with India was over.”  It is unclear whether the author was simply referring to having to go home, or if the actions of those days caused her to fall out of love with the country.  Unfortunately, the way in which she describes many of the people in India in the book – as superstitious and dismissive of the carnage that happens in their own country – suggests the latter rather than the former.

The story that Ostlere gives us is not all bad, nor is it full of nothing but racist caricatures.  Almost everyone in the book is Indian – by parentage if nothing else, such as in the case of the main character Maya/Jiva.  That’s what makes it so insidious; whether it was intentional or no, the racism is subtle and all the much more effective because of that.  Maya’s story is fairly compelling…until we get to the point where Maya gets caught up in the events of 1984 just as the author did. Suddenly the shame and heartbreak of an entire nation is all about how it affects Maya.  Despite the fact that her home still waits for her, unchanged.  (Or, at least, as unchanged as it was when she left it.)

It would be bad enough if Ostlere had simply tried to tell two stories instead of one – the suicide of Maya’s mother and the subsequent fallout being the story that the novel begins with.  Instead, Ostlere does not merely try to fit into that elegant tale another story about complex historical events and their effects on bystanders, she does so in a way that only lets us see these complexities through the eyes of someone that is a stranger to the land.  It’s not just bad writing, it’s incredibly disrespectful.

Reader’s Annotation:

Maya, barely coping with the loss of her mother, is caught up in political riots while returning her mother’s ashes to her homeland.


White Canadian writes about her experiences in India through the voice of a fictional Canadian girl whose parents are Indian immigrants.

Author Information:




Booktalking Ideas:

Unless the booktalk is about what not to read? Nope, not doing it. Ever.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

You mean, other than the subtle racism?  There’s violence, of course, but nothing that stands out compared to other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Book:

It sounded interesting.  And I was looking for a book about that part of the world, or kids whose families come from there, because there are a decent number where I live and work.


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