ARC Review: A Great Country by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Grace Mattsen // Staff Writer

A Great Country
by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

When Priya and Ashok Shah move their family to the affluent Pacific Hills, California, neighborhood, they feel like they have finally made it. After immigrating to the United States from India twenty years ago with only four suitcases and a dreary graduate student apartment waiting for them, the decades of hard work and homesickness seem worth it. One Saturday night, all security and safety the Shah’s thought they had shattered after their twelve-year-old son, Ajay, is arrested, launching the family into a reckoning with what they thought they knew about their family, community, and country. 

Split into three parts, the first part of this book chronicles the aftermath of Ajay’s arrest and his family’s initial descent into fear and chaos. Priya and Ashok are thrown into the complicated and convoluted American justice system in what can only be described as a parent’s worst nightmare, as they are unsure of their son’s future. Meanwhile, the eldest Shah child, Deepa, finds trouble at the American-Mexican border protesting with her best friend Paco. Maya, the middle child of the Shah family is—like any high school freshman—trying her best to fit in and make a name for herself at her new Pacific Hills high school. Ajay, the youngest Shah child, an introverted, gangly middle schooler with a passion for robotics appears to be the last person to commit a crime, but the local police force is not so sure. While still adjusting to their new community, where they already feel out of place as one of the only families of color, the Shah’s must now grapple with the effects of Ajay’s arrest. With the support of their new community and old friends, the Shah’s confront injustice and seek the truth. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing is quick paced and heart-felt, making this story captivating and characters easy to connect to. Throughout the whole book I genuinely cared about the well-being of this family, which made me eager to turn each page. The book is nuanced and thoughtful as it considers socio-economic and political conditions, while examining the humanity of each character. The anxiety and worries of Priya and Ashok are palpable. Gowda’s observations are incredibly sharp and intimate, making it easy to understand each character’s motivations and values. A Great Country by Shilpi Somaya Gowda ties together the complexities of family, communities, and society in a moving and powerful novel. This novel will be published by Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, on March 26, 2024 and I recommend that you pick up a copy. 

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