Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Girl Underwater - Claire Kells

22571605I read this book in one sitting.  Granted, I had forgotten what it was about by the time it started, and I needed to read the flap to refresh my mind--and then I had to skip ahead to the ending to make sure that I wasn't walking into an emotional boobytrap, because I don't like emotional boobytraps.  Let me phrase it this way: this story involves survival following a plane crash.  Clearly not all the people involved survive, and the beginning of the story was quite misleading in regards to who lives and who dies.  Luckily, even if you don't skip ahead like I did, that matter is resolve pretty quickly, and then we just have to catch up with what happened.

So.  Avery has always liked swimming, and moved to California for college to swim on a nationally-ranked team whose members frequently qualify for the Olympics.  There she meets Colin Shea, who is a little too real for her liking, and who she avoids like the plague.  She, Colin, and their teammate Phil are all on the same flight back to Boston for the winter holidays when their plane crashes in the Rocky Mountains.  Avery, Colin, and three little boys are the only survivors.  It's clear from the beginning that they're not in the mountains that long.  The plane is headed back to Boston two days before Thanksgiving, and Avery gets out of the hospital on December 10th after having evidently been there for a while--and later we learn that they were missing for five days.  But it's what happened in those five days that torments Avery, leaving her with a mean case of PTSD even if she doesn't initially want to admit it.

I loved Avery as a narrator, and Kells as a writer.  Her prose could be so achingly real, and Avery as the point-of-view character meant that just enough things were kept in the dark to keep things intriguing.  Not just because Kells was trying to hide them (though, of course, she was; that is the job of a good author, to keep us hooked) but also because Avery herself was avoiding thinking about them, trying to move on from the crash and the events following without ever actually addressing them.  Clearly this is not a good coping mechanism, and Avery slowly falls apart from the inside out as we watch through her eyes.  Her interactions with Colin were so achingly--beautiful?  Terrible?  Painful?  All of the above!  They just were, in the best way possible.  And then there's the love triangle that's done in a really good way, because Avery really likes her boyfriend, and is devoted to him, and appreciates him, and he's super supportive and wants her to succeed--he just doesn't understand what she's going through in the same way that Colin does.  And Kells doesn't use the love triangle to propel the story.  Instead, it's more of a support, and a way in which she can show how Avery is growing and changing and coming to terms with "before" and "after."

This is a survival story, but it's not Hatchet by any means.  Survival is only part of the story; actually living is the rest.  And that, I think, is what sets this book apart from other "disaster" stories.  I really loved this.  Kells doesn't have any other novels out right now, but I hope she has a long and fruitful career, because she seems to me like a very talented writer indeed.

4 stars, because she played with my heartstrings a little too much at the beginning for comfort, and unnecessarily so.

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