The First Time She Drowned

24724627by Kerry Kletter
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 15, 2016

I fell in love with the cover for this book, then I fell in love with the jacket summary, then I finally got it from the library and I fell in love with the writing. I’d seen a few reviews commenting on how beautiful the prose is in this story and they were all accurate. From the memorable first line, “My mother wore the sun like a hat…” to the last page, the diction and imagery captured me. To me it read like an adult novel rather than YA because Cassie is in college, the tone is heavy, and the story is about the adult relationship between Cassie and her mother. There is a lot of crossover appeal here, either way.

Cassie is checking out of her mental health hospital AMA (against medical advice) to attend her first semester of college. She’s understandably more nervous than excited because she’s been sequestered from the world for two years since her mother left her there against her will. We follow Cassie as she adjusts to the real world and tries to move past the complicated relationship with her mother. But just as she decides she’s over it all and will focus on her future, her mother reappears, promising the love Cassie has craved her entire life.

We slowly see the two narratives at war in Cassie’s life: what she believes her childhood was like, and what her mother says it was like. What Cassie believes herself to be, and what her mother thinks of her. As Cassie meets more and more people who seem to react strangely to her relationship with her mom, Cassie finds it harder to decide what really happened. This novel is an incredibly moving picture detailing how insidious and toxic abusive relationships are with chilling scenes and dialogue.

I’ve had friends with relationships that reminded me of Cassie’s mom; these women would strike their daughters physically and lash out verbally in my presence; they commented on their daughter’s weight/appearance; they said no boy will ever want them unless they can change everything about themselves, and then called their own daughter a whore or a slut. And half an hour later we’d be called out for dinner as if nothing happened. It was embarrassing and heart-breaking for me, and I can’t imagine how my friends felt at the time. When you’re a freshman in high school (especially from a religious background) nobody tells you how to react or help or deal with these issues. I wish now I’d done more than just tell my parents—it came down to “it’s none of our business” and that response made me sick to my stomach. As if their life had to be in danger before anyone would intervene, but their mental and emotional stability were fair game.

This story is emotionally exhausting and important to read. So often the mental health issues behind abuse aren’t thoroughly explored (for both the abuser and the victim) and the author handles this in an expert manner. I can’t recommend this enough!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The First Time She Drowned is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – Lia and Cassie are best friends with a pact to be the skinniest girls in school. Cassie prefers to vomit whatever she eats, Lia chooses to eat nothing. But when Cassie dies, Lia feels doubly haunted by her friend’s spirit and her own eating disorder, a nasty voice in her head that whispers if she can just lose enough weight, she and her problems will disappear. See my review here.
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is a self-described fat Mexican-American just trying to fit in and survive her senior year. Between her absent father’s infrequent appearances, the pressure not to be “White,” her friend’s pregnancy and her other friend attempting to come out to his family, Gabi has a lot on her plate. But writing becomes her sanctuary in this beautiful, coming-of-age story told through her diary entries. See my review here.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mary Iris Malone (Mim) is not okay with how her life is going. She’s not okay with knowing everyone thinks she is crazy. She’s not okay with her father’s remarriage. And she’s not okay with her father moving her replacement family hundreds of miles away from her mother. When letters from her mother stop, and Mim overhears a conversation that indicates her mother is ill, she wastes no time. She takes a bus to her mother. See my review here.
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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. erinkbay
    Apr 27, 2016 @ 22:05:22

    AWWW I need to read this now!!!! Love this review as always Manda Panda!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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