Book Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt
Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive-first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then, herself. But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school. When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside. Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.
Oof. What an intense read. Morgan has been home, isolated, for months, ever since the shooting at her high school. Her debilitating panic attacks mean she can’t even conceive of being able to cross the threshold of her front door and go out into the world ever again. She does online school, takes comfort in routine and predictability, and is visited twice a week by a psychologist. When Evan Kokua moves in next door, he seems determined to be friends with her. Not only that, he doesn’t really seem fazed by the fact that she’s essentially a shut-in. At first she’s defensive and skittish around him, but their connection is immediate, and cleverness and honesty starts to give peeks of both who she is now and who she was Before.
The blurb above, from the publisher, could make it sound like Evan is some sort of savior. But that’s not the case at all. This doesn’t become a story about some boy swooping in and “fixing” a girl. They’re both broken. Maybe everyone is broken. Evan reminds her that she’s not the only one suffering, that everyone is just trying to survive–especially everyone who lived through the school shooting. Morgan’s road to recovery is long. She has intensive therapy. She has emergency pills. She has reminders to breathe, reminders that she’s not dying. She has the support of her mother. She has her own willpower. Her story is a testament to effectiveness of therapy. As the story goes on, we see her slowly (very slowly) change from the scared, isolated girl who can’t leave her house to something sort of like who she used to be. Flashbacks to her past show us how different she is now.
It’s through these looks back at her past that we learn more about her father, a now-homeless vet with an alcohol problem. After 5 tours in Afghanistan, he’s not the person he used to be. Morgan, her mom, and little brother rarely hear from him. He’s not getting the help he needs for his PTSD and Morgan is terrified that she might become like him. She doesn’t want to always be looking over her shoulder. She doesn’t want to retreat from her family and from life. And she doesn’t want to feel like a burden.
The issues addressed here are LARGE ones. Morgan struggles HARD. But there is a gentle undertone of hope and resilience throughout the story. Morgan’s panic attacks are terrible. What she went through is terrible. What she’s seen her father go through is terrible. The secret she’s hanging onto is making her feel even more terrible. But she has help. She has support. I really loved what Reichardt does with Morgan and Evan’s relationship. He is there to be a friend when she needs one and to get her to start to open up, but he isn’t there to save her. He is kind and understanding, but he’s also frustrated and calls her out on her inability to see that others are hurting too. He never tries to diminish Morgan’s own pain, but he reminds her that she’s not alone. And she’s not.
This novel is a powerful look at grief, mental illness, trust, forgiveness, letting go, and moving on. This should make your TBR list because of its strong writing, its examination of PTSD and panic disorders, and its hopeful approach toward therapy and recovery.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 01/12/2016
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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