That’s What She Read: The First Time She Drowned

Raw. Wrenching. Brutal.

These are not the descriptors that would normally draw me to a novel, particularly in late summer when my mind is still on hiatus. But the title stopped me; “The First Time She Drowned?” Who drowns twice? Then the cover grabbed me, gray-green turbulent waves under an overcast sky. Then I read the first line: “My mother wore the sun like a hat.” And I was hooked and had to read the rest.

Cassie O’Malley has just been released from a mental hospital. She was dragged in (literally) by her mother nearly three years ago. Now eighteen and able to check herself out, she’s entering college and trying desperately to fit in without disclosing her past. Independent and fierce, Cassie wants to trust no one, including Zoey, the loveable girl across the hall, Chris, the hunky guy who likes her, Liz, the college counselor and most of all her mother. But trying to keep her head above water on her own is exhausting. Bit by bit, Cassie begins to explore her past and come to terms with her mother, her family and herself. Who is the crazy one? What happened to make everyone agree with Cassie’s mother that commitment was the only treatment for a rebellious teenager? Is Cassie a reliable narrator?

Kletter’s Cassie is a damaged, vulnerable but resilient young woman whom you just can’t help rooting for and loving. The big reveal of the source of her trauma is predictable but still heartbreaking, the major characters are believable, and the story rushes along like a Jersey shore rip tide. A quick read, ultimately hopeful and worth the time to devour.