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Breathing Underwater Hardcover – April 24, 2001

4.5 out of 5 stars 193 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen; 1st edition (April 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060291982
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060291983
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #957,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
Nick Andreas has just been served a restraining order from the person he loves the most in the world. After beating his girlfriend, the sixteen-year-old offender finds himself attending group therapy and writing in a journal about the things he's done. He's the son of an abuser, and it looks like that abuse has surfaced within himself. The question is, can Nick recognize what he's done? More importantly, can he change?
The premise is a complex one. Author Alex Flinn set out to write about an abusive relationship from the abuser's point of view. Now how do you go about doing that, exactly? How do you write a story in which the reader has to simultaneously empathize with and abhor the protagonist? The fact of the matter is, Flinn is so adept with her writing skills that she gets away with it. The result is phenomenal.
The real strength of this story is the way in which the plot arcs and fools the reader. Nick is hardly a reliable narrator (a fact that becomes painfully clear by the end of the story). Yet when he writes in his journal, he feels unaccountably unable to lie about anything that happened. Flinn slowly brings the plot in the journal, and the story of how Nick lives in the aftermath of his own violence, together by the book's end. She does not compromise her position either. As a woman who served as a lawyer trying domestic violence cases and as a volunteer at the Inn Transition facility for battered women and their kids, she knows from whence she speaks. This isn't an author who is speculating on what violence does to families and friends. She knows. Better still, she can write about it.
This isn't a perfect book, I suppose. Some jumps in the plot are implausible. Some characters inconsistent. But what flaws it has only serve to show how strong the story itself is. There is no book on how abusers feel that is as available and accessible to young adults as "Breathing Underwater". You will never regret having read it.
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Format: Paperback
It's hard reading a book where the main character is unlikeable, and Nick is most definitely unlikeable. Although the first person narrative makes it a little easier to accept Nick. Flinn has done a good job of not only showing what an abusive relationship is and how it fuels itself (controlling behavior from insecurities preying on someone elses insecurities, reinforced by an I'll do anything if you don't hurt me again response -- to simplify it way too much). But more impressive, she has shown how someone can grow and start to move on -- convincingly. This isn't a "it's for teens so I have to find a silver lining" type ending. Nick has a long way to go at the end of the book. Everything isn't magically better, but there is a plan.
Also Flinn's details, events, background stories of the characters clearly come from her experiences working with people in similar situations. Even her wildest story -- Leo becoming a puppet abuser (i.e. his father is pulling the strings) is very believable, at least to me, because I know someone whose father made him do horrible, abusive things to his sister.
Painful, yet healing book to read, about something that both teens and adults need to be aware of.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an exceptionally compassionate, yet realistic story of one young man's unconscious choice to follow in his father's footsteps, and the consequences it has on his life. A series of physical outbursts against his girlfriend (not to mention ongoing verbal assault) land Nick in court, and he finds himself without the support of family or friends. With the help of a counseling program, and a journal assignment from the judge, Nick tries to figure out how he became a person he neither likes nor understands. Given its subject matter, any success Breathing Underwater achieves almost assures that controversy will follow. That said, it is my opinion that it should be mandatory reading at Junior High level, and stacks of copies should be donated to crisis centers, women's shelters, and child abuse prevention programs everywhere.
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Format: Hardcover
The book Breathing Underwater, is about 16-year-old Nick Andrews who is one of those guys who you would think has it all. He is rich, good looking, has little parent supervision, to a 16 year old boy that's everything, he's athletic, and a straight-A student. But what people think isn't always true. Nick and his father wouldn't win family of the year. His father abuses him, and there is nothing he can do about it. He is going out with the prettiest girl in the grade, Caitlin, at least she has been beautiful since she got back from fat camp the summer before. The best part about their relationship is that they are both wild about each other. Everything seems to be going well, until he hits her and she files a restraining order on him. After that he lost everything that was ever important to him; Caitlin, his friends, his respect, and his popularity. He has to take classes and write in a journal of what happened between Caitlin and him; for punishment. He also loses all ways of communication with Caitlin. In his classes he unwillingly learns a part of him that he never knew he had. In the journal Nick writes, he explains everything that happens from the first time he ever saw Caitlin, up to when and why she filled the restraining order on him.
Breathing Underwater was a very good book. My favorite character was Nick. Even though he was abusive I still enjoyed reading about what happened to him on his bumpy road of life. The book was a good story and I found it hard to put it down. I liked the book also because it was a story on something that happens more then people may think it does. And I think this book teaches kids that, sadly, abuse does happen often between couples. The book was also a good story and I found it hard to put it down. I think you should read Breathing Underwater. It is very good and it is the kind of book that every type of person would like!
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