Parents' Guide to

Learning Not to Drown

By Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Teen faces her criminal brother's legacy in gripping read.

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In her debut novel, Anna Shinoda creates a gripping, realistic tale of living with the fallout of a relative's crimes and of the stigma that comes with being associated with a criminal. The story's told from Clare's point of view, and at first she is whiny and grating. But as she faces her family's secrets and learns to advocate for herself, her tone becomes more assured. It's enjoyable to watch her mature over the course of the book. Learning Not to Drown's structure of alternating between past and present builds interest and moves the story forward in a compelling way.

Clare's life is frustrating, and she gets no support at home, but the overall message is good: You can't change people, but you can take care of yourself and build a good support system outside of your family. The lurking character of Skeleton, a representation of Clare's embarrassment over her family, is a clever device. He taunts Clare, but she eventually learns to face him and deal with his near-constant presence. Clare's parents are infuriating characters, and her dad's role is somewhat confusing and poorly fleshed out. The story would have benefited from further exploration of their relationship and his motivations.

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