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The First Time She Drowned
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know The First Time She Drowned follows Cassie O'Malley as she digs into her past and figures out how to move on from being raised by an unreachable, unloving mother -- a mother who lied to have Cassie committed to a mental institution for two-and-a-half years. This heartrending story is intensely emotional. Sexual molestation, physical abuse, and other violence is depicted, but those passages aren't so graphic as to be hard for sensitive readers to get through. Mental cruelty features prominently. Lots of alcohol consumption is shown, including at college parties as well as family gatherings where adults get drunk. Some adult and teen characters smoke cigarettes, and adults smoke pot in front of little kids. Swearing isn't frequent but includes "f--k" and its variations, "s--t" and its variations, "bitch," "a--hole," and "pissed."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Cassie O'Malley is bewildered when her parents suddenly tie her up and pack her off to a mental institution. For the next two-and-a-half years, her family rarely visits, leaving her isolated and unsure of what she did wrong and what the future holds for her. She's able to release herself from the facility when she turns 18 but faces life completely unprepared for interacting with others. As the book moves between Cassie's present and past, the story of her upbringing and her mother's cruel, abusive treatment unfolds. The book examines how mental, physical, and sexual abuse can run in families, causing lasting damage in a variety of ways. Through the help of her friend and a therapist, Cassie begins to uncover the sources of her trauma and must make some decisions about how she can move forward, heal, and break her family's cycle of abuse and neglect.
Is it any good?
Heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting, this powerful first novel deftly captures the depth and ripple effects of childhood abuse. The beautiful, poignant prose and the deep truths will appeal to adult readers as well as to teens. Even though the subject matter is heavy, the story never feels like too much of a downer. Cassie is a fantastic main character, who's relatable even given her dire circumstances.
Author Kerry Kletter brings to life the sad desperation of a child trying to please her unreachable mother. Her vivid writing lets us feel everything Cassie has endured, even as Cassie is uncovering and reliving her own repressed memories. She's always wanted her mother's love and approval, and it's painful to see a kid feel so unloved, especially when her mother dotes on her brother while pretending Cassie doesn't exist. When her mother comes back into the picture, Cassie is paralyzed with conflicting feelings of self-preservation and the need for her mother's love and approval. Watching her wrestle with her relationship with her mom while putting together the pieces of her past makes for a gripping and emotional read.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about emotional abuse, which can be subtle or obvious. Do you think media portrayals of cruel parents can be over the top? Are some more believable than others?
Many young adult novels deal with physical or mental illness. Which others have you read and liked? What's so compelling about these topics?
Lots of books and movies show college kids drinking a lot at parties. Do you think these scenes encourage this behavior?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.