Publishing Date: March 15, 2016
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Pages: 352 pages
Young Adult Contemporary
The Premise from the Publisher: "The beautiful struggle of a girl desperate for the one relationship that has caused her the most pain. Cassie O'Malley has spent the past two and a half years in a mental institution—dumped there by her mother, against her will. Now, at 18, Cassie emancipates herself, determined to start over. She attends college, forms new friendships, and even attempts to start fresh with her mother. But before long, their unhealthy relationship threatens to pull Cassie under once again. As Cassie struggles to reclaim her life, childhood memories persist and confuse, and Cassie must consider whose version of history is real, and more important, whose life she must 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" (PYRG).
My overall thoughts and review: On the back of this book some of my favorite authors blurbed about how amazing this book was: Jennifer Niven and Nicola Yoon. I was walking into this with high expectations and Kletter did not disappoint. The topic of this book resonates with me on a personal level and although, I won't get into the nitty gritty details of my personal life, I don't think there are enough narratives out there that simply focus on the relationship between young adults and their parents. Yes, parents are often included in the narrative, but they are merely secondary characters. I'm seeing with a lot of YA contemporary novels that the focal point is the love relationship and how parents can affect that. Kletter does something quite interesting where she looks at it from the perspective of how Cassie's relationship with her mother (and her father and siblings) have altered how she interacts with friends. Cassie being locked up in a mental institution for two and a half years has tore her away from her family. Mostly because it was her family that put her there. In the institution, Cassie finds a friend in James. As Cassie prepares to get out, James talks about meeting her on the outside when he can and although she leaves, he is her anchor and someone that keeps her grounded. When Cassie arrives at the college, she meets Zoey, who attempts to be her friend and new roommate. But there is a lot holding Cassie back from attending classes and making friends.
The narrative moves in and out from the present and to flashbacks of Cassie and her childhood. In the flashbacks, the reader learns how poorly Cassie was treated by her mother. Her mother was manipulative and always chose her brother over her. Some of the dialogue scenes between Cassie and her mother in the flashbacks broke my heart and turned me into a rage monster. I must admit, I wished I was able to reach in and grab childhood Cassie's hand and say, "It is going to be alright!" since no one else was doing that. Overall, Cassie does begin to heal from her past and learns how damaging her relationship with her mother is to her mental health. I really enjoyed how Cassie's relationship with the therapist developed and some of the revelations. I don't want to mention too much to spoil the book, but the text did a really great job at not making Cassie "heal" vis a vis a love relationship. I find narratives that paint the damsel in distress plot super problematic and Kletter goes beyond that. I will say though, my one criticism is that the text didn't really feel like it took place at a "college" for me. It felt like it took place in a highschool/boarding school setting. I guess that could also be a sign that I've been in university waaaay too long ;) Anyways, overall, I really enjoyed this read and how it offered a different look into relationships with parents. I think fans of Winger, The Perks of Being a Wallflower & Everything, Everything will definitely enjoy this read!
My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮ (4/5 stars)