Title: The First Time She Drowned
Author: Kerri Kletter
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Health, Realistic Fiction
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication date: March 15th, 2016
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?
“Today I leave my history behind. Make the past the past, as James always said. Today, right now, I start over. A new me. Or something like that.”
Wow, I heard my heart break. This was such a wonderfully written book, and one much darker than I thought. Nonetheless, it hit me right at my chest and left a whole, and I’m so glad I’ve read it.
I don’t know why but I haven’t heard many people talking about it. I found out about it I think when I was scrolling down books on Amazon, and the cover was really unique, so I decided to read the synopsis and immediately I added it to my TBR. But finally it was during ContemporaryAThon when I finally picked it up. And boy, I’m so glad I did.
“The thing is, when you don’t have a mother, you don’t have a home, and when you don’t have a home, there’s nowhere to go when you’re sad or scared or alone, even in your own mind, there’s just nowhere to go.”
I freaking loved Cassie. I think she was a very unlikeable protagonist, mainly because her decisions during the whole entire book weren’t the best ones, and well, I think some people wouldn’t like her that much because of her personality. But in my case, I connected right away with her character, and I cannot tell you how much I adored her development during the story.
She was a very complex character. Since it was a character driven book, I think that’s really important in a protagonist, and in this story I was pleasently surprised to see that she had so many layers and that we were getting to know each every piece of her past throughout the story, and not only at the beginning. Not only it created a bond between the reader and said character, but also it made me emphatize with her and what was she going through at the time, which spoiler alert: wasn’t good at all.
It deals with abuse, but in a very different way, which I thought it was so clever to do, because when people think abuse an abuse relationship, the only thing (or the first one) that comes to their minds in hits and bruises. And in this story you could see how manipulative her mother was, and how much it affected Cassie with her life. It was really tough to read sometimes, because I felt so frustrated and powerless reading some scenes that I wanted to throw the book.
“Nobody noticed that I was gone. Everybody went on, in fact, as if I had never been there at all. Life continued, and I watched it like a television show through the window of a stranger’s house. I was outside. I watched.”
Something I really loved about this book was the adult figure of the counselor. She was such a caring and amazing character, and I was glad to see her become an important figure to Cassie towards the end of the book. I also think this had a really good representation of depresion, that wasn’t forced and was well incorporated and talked about in the story. And also I was so happy to see the interactions between Cassie and Liz (the college’s counselor). You know this already but seeing these things and how they helped our main character made my insides warm up (in a good way).
There was a bit of a romance story in the book, but I’d say it wasn’t the main focus of the story whatsoever. I liked how it was handled and that it wasn’t really fast or insta love-y.
Basically, I loved the entire book. This was one of the books I didn’t know I was looking for, but it will stay with me for many reasons, and I highly recommend it if you want to read a darker contemporary books about mental health.
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