A Profoundly Heart-Wrenching Must Read | Review of ‘The First Time She Drowned’


By Cynthia Ayala

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter Philomel Books
The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter
Philomel Books

Wrongfully institutionalized by her mother, Cassie has the chance to break free and start anew with as she checks herself out at 18 to start college. But there are secrets in her past that begin to float to the surface as they break through her barrier. A toxic mother who cares only about herself threatens to rewrite the past and pull Cassie back to the dark depths of her psyche. Cassie needs to break away from her mother, reclaim her life, and face the past head on.

Published March 15, 2016, by Philomel Books, The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter is an enthralling tale surrounding a toxic mother-daughter relationship and the hardships of mental illness.

This is one of those novels that is so incredibly powerful that it moves the reader. It’s a profound way to tell a heart wrenching story that goes back and forth between the past and the present to develop all the pain that will lead to finding the hope that was lost so long ago. It’s magical in such a lyrical and profound way in the fact that it’s only metaphorically magical I the way the story moves and is told thorugh a perspective of an unreliable narrator. This book is a hidden gem and is such a strong debut novel. There is so much heart to the storytelling and the character development.

The way the story functions retells the story of Cassie’s relationship with her mother who serves as a very toxic individual. The relationship she has instead with her son, Cassie’s brother will also leave the reader uncomfortable because it’s wrong, not in the sense of anything happening, but in the sense of the relationship, of using him as a surrogate husband instead of her own husband, leaving Cassie behind putting a strain on their relationship. But the uncomfortable feeling the reader has doesn’t just disappear when they [mother and son] are out of the picture. Something is haunting Cassie, preventing her from growing out of her insecurities, something that goes beyond the strained relationship with her mother. It shakes the reader up, to see life through the eyes of an adult looking back on the past.

Memories are tricky things when it comes to narrative, especially when the writer presents an unreliable narrator to the story. But the fluidity and the questions the protagonist imposes upon herself make the story and the past more believable as it goes one. There is such fluidity to the storytelling that just captivates the reader.

Overall, this is such a powerful book that will leave the reader shaking with a plethora of emotions by the end. There such longing, such development and fear that the reader feels from the story and that simply makes it resonate with the reader on such a profound level. As a debut novel, this is perfection and a must read. (★★★★★ | A+)

Pub Date: Mar. 15th, 2016 Page count: 352pp Age Range: 14 – 17
ISBN: 978-0-3991-7103-1 Publisher: Philomel Books List Price: $17.99

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