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Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Family secrets cut to the bone in this mesmerizing debut novel about a teen whose drug-addicted brother is the prodigal son one time too many.
There is a pecking order to every family. Seventeen-year old Clare is the overprotected baby; Peter is the typical, rebellious middle child; and Luke is the oldest, the can’t-do-wrong favorite. To their mother, they are a normal, happy family.
To Clare, they are a family on the verge of disaster. Clare: the ambitious striver; Peter: the angry ticking time bomb; and Luke: a drug-addicted convicted felon who has been in and out of jail for as long as Clare can remember—and who has always been bailed out by their parents.
Clare loves Luke, but life as his sister hasn’t been easy. And when he comes home (again), she wants to believe this time will be different (again). Yet when the truths behind his arrests begin to surface, everything Clare knows is shaken to its core. And then Luke is arrested. Again.
Except this time is different, because Clare’s mom does the unthinkable on Luke’s behalf, and Clare has to decide whether turning her back on family is a selfish act…or the only way to keep from drowning along with them.
Debut novelist Anna Shinoda’s raw, gritty, powerful novel cuts right to the bone and brings to life the skeletons the lurk in the closet.
I received this book free of charge from the Goodreads First Reads’ giveaway program. This does not affect my opinion or my review.
“I still miss him. I still love him. Even if I never talk to him again.”
Clare, p. 336
Well, well, well, Learning Not to Drown. It may appear as though you are the only book to have lifted me out of that ugly, abysmal gap in my reads which Afterimage left in me. Congratulations to you, and congratulations to Anna Shinoda.
I’m not gonna lie, I prolly would’ve never learned of this book had it not been for Jessie Marie Reads’ Waiting on WWW Wednesday in which she featured it. I’m also not gonna lie about the fact that it was Anna Shinoda (yes, wife of Mike Shinoda, musician in the world-famous band Linkin Park) who wrote the book which initially attracted to me check it out. I promptly entered the First Reads giveaway going on. I never win anyway. It couldn’t hurt to enter, right?
For the first time ever, I won the giveaway. Woohoo! Weeks later, this little treasure showed up in my mailbox with a short letter from author Anna Shinoda herself.
I think that may or may not have been a mistake to include.
This letter is enclosed among the flyleafs of the book, clearly meant to be read first. And so I did. And it’s a “letter to her younger self,” in which she describes a scene where her older brother kills a bat that was pestering her. After I read the letter, I read the book. And let me tell you, it has been a long and trying journey to separate the two.
It’s no secret that Anna Shinoda’s life is what sparked the guts of this book. That being said, I wasn’t able to differentiate between the two I‘s in the narrative – “I” in Learning Not to Drown is Clare Tovin; “I” in real life is Anna Shinoda. With a book written in the first-person, I often got confused if this was a memoir or a fictitious novel.
It makes me wonder, while Learning Not to Drown was a good novel, could Anna Shinoda replicate this effort, without accounts from her own life to draw on to flesh out a narrative?
The whole time I was reading, it felt like she’d literally written this book from the standpoint of her own life and then deleted names, replaced them with fictive ones.
Anyway. I say all that, but this really was a good book. I do think it could’ve used a bit of shaving down, especially in the middle. I was reading through the beginning and after chapters and chapters of flashbacks and insignificant present tense, I began to feel like I’d read all there was to read in this book.
Also, most of the conflict of the novel revolves around close-minded small-town folks and fucking obnoxious parentage. Seriously, everybody judges the entire family of “Tovins” for Luke’s crimes, and Clare can’t understand why – but that’s because her parents only ever told her he steals, and that’s it, [SPOILER] when in reality his crimes are much, much worse – grievous, even. [/SPOILER] I’ve never been so infuriated by fictitious parents. They infantilize and barricade and pretty much abuse their only daughter, while coddling the disastrous behavior of their two sons.
Oh, yeah – the boys, Luke and Peter. The first-person narrative really worked to the benefit of Learning Not to Drown‘s purpose, getting me on Clare’s side about her feelings for her brother, but I kinda think this would’ve been a more well-rounded novel told from the middle child, Peter’s, perspective. I wouldn’t say he had a whole lot of development – he kinda flipped a 180 at the end, cheesily – but the only reason we understand Clare is because all we know is what she knows.
Peter knows everything.
Clare’s lied to.
Peter sees with his own eyes.
That’s a personal opinion, of course. And, despite it all, I actually ended up enjoying Learning Not to Drown quite a bit. It’s a different focus than most Young Adult books anymore but with the same style, so it’s easy to relate to. Especially if you’ve ever been borderline-psychotically parented.