Cassie O’Malley has been trying to keep her head above water—literally and metaphorically—since birth. It’s been two and a half years since Cassie’s mother dumped her in a mental institution against her will, and now, at eighteen, Cassie is finally able to reclaim her life and enter the world on her own terms.
But freedom is a poor match against a lifetime of psychological damage. As Cassie plumbs the depths of her new surroundings, the startling truths she uncovers about her own family narrative make it impossible to cut the tethers of a tumultuous past. And when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is real? And more important, whose life must she 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.
Description taken from Goodreads.
The First Time She Drowned had a lot of hype surrounding it, which may be why I was disappointed with it. There were a lot of great elements. For starters, I loved the writing. People weren’t joking when they said that some of the snippets to this story were beautifully and eloquently written. The segments about Cassie’s childhood were very reminiscent of the way that Chelsey Philpot wrote Even in Paradise, which I also really enjoyed.
I think the hardest part to this story was meshing the rawness of Cassie’s resentment with how much she loved and still wants to be accepted by her mother. I normally don’t even it when authors flip from past to present. Even though it took a little bit of forcing to keep it consistent, Kletter was very successful in developing Cassie’s voice and character.
Kletter tackles a myriad of issues with this story. Even in just one family, Cassie has problems with each of her family members. There’s her brother, whom she never really knew. Her mother, who she longs to be accepted by but never can be. Her father, who is always trying but never quite there. The expansiveness of this story was one of its great strengths. I could feel Cassie’s heartbreak, and I was there with her in her struggles.
However, I felt that the expansiveness drew away from what really mattered. While all three conflicts held potential, each one ended up feeling half-baked. I wanted more, especially when it came to the relationships between Cassie, her father, and her brother. In the end, I didn’t know the brother at all. It’s also noteworthy to mention that the family issues were only a handful of what was represented.
For what it’s worth, I loved Cassie’s relationship with her mom. I was worried that it wouldn’t pull together. Altogether, I still doubt that it did. Things were very rushed toward the end, making what should’ve been the climax, anticlimactic. The pacing was all off towards the second half.
I’m hesitant to say so, but Kletter’s The First She Drowned stands on its own among sexual assault/family issues novels. There’s a lot going on, but there’s also a lot to be valued. There are some truly great moments scattered throughout this story. For that, I’d recommend this. 3 stars.