It was only a slap. Well, maybe more than one. And maybe Nick used his fist at the end when the anger got out of control. But his girlfriend Caitlin deserved it--hadn't she defied him by singing in the school talent show when he had forbidden her to display herself like that? Even though he'd told her that everybody would laugh at her because she couldn't sing and was a fat slob? Both were lies. Because Caitlin was so beautiful, the only person who understood him. Out of his desperate need for her came all the mean words and the hitting. But now Caitlin's family has procured a restraining order to keep Nick away, and the judge has sentenced him to Mario Ortega's Family Violence class, to sit around every week with six other angry guys who hit their girlfriends. And to write a journal explaining how he got into this mess.
Other teen novels--most strikingly Dreamland by Sarah Dessen--have shown dating violence from the point of view of a young girl trapped in an abusive relationship, but in Breathing Underwater, first-time novelist Alex Flinn tackles the difficult task of making us understand, if not sympathize with, the motivation of a violent young man. The story, like Rob Thomas's stylistically similar Rats Saw God, proceeds in two different time frames: the journal in which Nick relives the course of his tender but stormy love affair with Caitlin and the time after the restraining order, in which a desperate and friendless Nick struggles to understand and overcome his anger. This extraordinarily moving novel is highly relevant reading for all young men in our violence-prone society. (Ages 13 and older) --Patty Campbell
From Publishers Weekly
"Ever feel like you're breathing underwater, and you have to stop because you're gulping in too much fluid?" For 16-year-old Nick Andreas, these words from his violence counselor ring true. While his classmates think of him as rich, popular and perfect, they don't know the truth about his turbulent home life with an abusive father. As Flinn's first novel opens, Nick finds himself in court, facing a restraining order by his girlfriend, Caitlin. He is sentenced to six months of counseling and to write 500 words per week in a journal, explaining what happened from the day he met Caitlin to the present. Set in Miami and told in a split narrative, the novel juxtaposes Nick's journal entries about his past relationship with Caitlin alongside the current challenges of going back to school with his friends turned against him, his counseling sessions and life with his father. Gradually, he begins to recognize his own responsibility in how events played out ("Somehow, when I see it on paper, it becomes more real than when it's just in my head"). The correlation between Nick's controlling behavior and his father's abuse is subtle but effective. Caitlin's insecurity, borne of self-image problems due to a previous weight problem and her beautiful mother's badgering, is also credibly rendered. The ending scene with Nick's best friend rings a bit hollow, but as Nick's past comes to light, both the circumstances and his owning up to his actions carry heavy emotional weight in this gripping tale. Ages 13-up.
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