Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Publication.Date  March 15th 2016
Published By:  Philomel Books
AuthorKerry Kletter

The First Time She Drowned on Goodreads
My review copy:Bought
Where to get:;jsessionid=53428FAEB8E6DD59318D5431649F40B8.prodny_store01-atgap01?ean=9781492622468&st=AFF&2sid=Goodreads,%20Inc_2227948_NA&sourceId=AFFGoodreads,%20IncM000004

Cassie O’Malley has been trying to keep her head above water—literally and metaphorically—since birth. It’s been two and a half years since Cassie’s mother dumped her in a mental institution against her will, and now, at eighteen, Cassie is finally able to reclaim her life and enter the world on her own terms.

But freedom is a poor match against a lifetime of psychological damage. As Cassie plumbs the depths of her new surroundings, the startling truths she uncovers about her own family narrative make it impossible to cut the tethers of a tumultuous past. And when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is real? And more important, whose life must she save?

A bold, literary story about the fragile complexities of mothers and daughters and learning to love oneself, The First Time She Drowned reminds us that we must dive deep into our pasts if we are ever to move forward.

Because just like all the other times I've drowned in my life, I'm determined to keep paddling forward, to believe that none of it has affected me at all.
It was when I discovered that there are two kinds of death. There is ceasing to exist, usually accompanied by a funeral and loved ones in mourning. And then there is emotional death born out of necessity and measured solely by the absence of grief it causes: the turning off the lights of oneself in order to shut down the feelings of being alive.
That's the weirdest thing about being cut off from life. Everything gets washed out or muted or recedes into the background except for other people's laughter. Other people's laughter gets very loud and jarring. It penetrates. It is a reminder that other people live.
There is no one around in any direction as far as I can see, and there is so much peace in that , in the absence of human voices. Sometimes is seems like everybody wants to put their noise into the world until you can't have enough quiet to even know you exist.
I've always had this vision of how my life would end. I wonder if everybody has an idea of their worst imaginable death, an image so explicit you could almost wonder if is is prophetic.

     I first heard about this book from Jeff Zentner, the author of The Serpent King. In fact, Jeff said that THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED is his favorite YA book of all times. Being completely obsessed with Jeff's book myself, I knew this was a recommendation I just couldn't pass up. I immediately pre-ordered Kerry Kletter's book and started reading as soon as it arrived at my doorstep.

     This was a phenomenal story, guys. So incredibly well written, harrowing and heartbreaking, I felt like I myself was drowning while reading it. It's not a secret that I love hard-hitting contemporary books, especially the ones that deal with difficult family issues, mental illness, bullying etc. I just love stories that pack a strong emotional punch in the guts. Well, I certainly found all that in this book, probably even more than I wished for. 

     Reading The First Time She Drowned was both a cathartic and emotionally crippling experience. This book felt so raw, honest and gripping, I felt physically ill while reading it. No, it wasn't gross or brutal, at least not in a physical sense. It was just so real and intense, I couldn't disconnect myself from the story and the characters. It was like being stuck in a nightmare that you can't wake up from. I realize that big part of how I feel about this book, is due to my own past experiences. I internalized a lot of what happened to Cassie. I was able to draw parallels between our lives and get insights that actually felt painful to me. It felt weird to feel this kind of strong connection with a character, especially one so damaged and desperate for love and acceptance. At the same time, it also felt good. I didn't feel alone in my struggles anymore, if you know what I mean. John Green once said that great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood, and so to me, The First Time She Drowned is exactly that kind of book. A truly great one.

     Kletter did an amazing job fleshing out Cassie's character. I never doubted her feelings for one second, she never felt fake or flat to me. She felt very real, and that's probably why I was able to connect with her so easily. 

     Cassie's story wasn't easy to read. Everything she went through, as a kid and as a teenager, every little memory she shared with us, it all seemed so profoundly sad and unfair, I couldn't help but feel for her. I was angry at her family for leaving her alone and making her feel unloved and unwanted; and so utterly unimportant. I wanted to reach into the book and hug her. At the same time, I recognized her strength and unwillingness to give up on herself, and even her mother, as something admirable. She is a fascinating character and I am pretty sure she will stay with me forever.

     The First Time She Drowned is a very important book. Dealing with extremely difficult and relevant subjects such as motherly love, mental illness, abuse and suicide, it's not an easy story to digest at all, but it's definitely one worth reading and sharing with others.

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