The First Time She Drowned

352p. ebook available. Philomel. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399171031.
Gr 9 Up—Cassie O'Malley is 18 and can finally (against medical advice) check herself out of the mental institution she was committed to by her parents. Having been admitted into her mother's alma mater, an anxious yet hopeful Cassie attends college. While there, she finds it difficult to make friends and go to class, because she lacks coping and social skills. As childhood memories bubble to the surface, Cassie begins to question her upbringing. Kletter's exploration of a dysfunctional family through the eyes of a daughter is raw with emotion. The storytelling moves forward in time with flashback scenes to fill in the character's backstory. The author expertly establishes the familial connections, but the development of new bonds in college moves jarringly fast, especially given the complexities of and attention paid to Cassie's relationships with her mother, brother, father, and other extended family members. This book could contain triggers for students who have experienced sexual abuse at the hands of a relative. It is a sophisticated read that—given more pages to develop in the collegiate setting—could easily be placed on new adult shelves. Great for fans of Stephanie Kuehn's Charm & Strange (St. Martin's, 2013).
VERDICT Sophisticated readers who enjoy dark realistic fiction will be satisfied by this lyrical novel.

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