I saw this book on Goodreads a few weeks ago and after reading the blurb I decided to give it a try. It’s Kerry Kletter’s debut novel and a heart-wrenching read from cover to cover. To add the book on Goodreads, you can click the cover. You can see my review below.
There are certain things children need from their mothers-things that we are all entitled too from birth. Some of these include sense of safety, trust, being nurtured and feeling as though we belong. Most of all, as children, we need someone to love us and someone for us to love back. This is something Cassie was denied when she was a young child and she couldn’t seem to figure out how to obtain it. Instead, she questioned herself and suffered mental illness. She was thrust into the world when all she believed in was lies and uncertainty.
I had a very hard time reading parts of this book. I felt like the majority of the characters (Cassie’s family) were evil, selfish beings. Most of Cassie’s family had mental issues and it was quickly trickling down onto her as she was abused, abandoned, and treated as though she was a nobody. It’s harrowing at times and makes you feel like all you want to do is hug her and reassure her that there’s nothing wrong with her, and that everything will be okay.
I felt for Cassie’s mother because it was apparent that she herself had issues with her own mother. I felt like it was just history repeating itself because her mom just didn’t know how to be a mom. She didn’t know how to love as she wasn’t loved herself. All she knew was the horrible experiences she had in her life with her own family and she couldn’t rise above it.
Cassie’s family roping her up and dumping her into a mental institution was a way for her parents to not have to deal with her problems anymore. They couldn’t see that it was their fault. Instead, they locked her away in a mental institution for a good amount of her teen life. Her parents were oblivious to some of the things that she had gone through, and the mother chose to ignore it. Cassie’s aunt was a sick excuse of a human being and the fact that her mother left Cassie with her aunt knowing that the aunt had issues made me so angry. There wasn’t anyone who really understood Cassie except the uncle, who she barely saw.
Despite this being an emotional read, I enjoyed it. I was pleased with the book from beginning to end and remained engaged throughout. The conclusion was thoroughly satisfying. As far as the writing, the story is written beautifully and I want to read more from this author. In fact, I want to read everything she writes and look forward to her next book.
Cassie O’Malley has been trying to keep her head above water—literally and metaphorically—since birth. It’s been two and a half years since Cassie’s mother dumped her in a mental institution against her will, and now, at eighteen, Cassie is finally able to reclaim her life and enter the world on her own terms.
But freedom is a poor match against a lifetime of psychological damage. As Cassie plumbs the depths of her new surroundings, the startling truths she uncovers about her own family narrative make it impossible to cut the tethers of a tumultuous past. And when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is real? And more important, whose life must she save?
A bold, literary story about the fragile complexities of mothers and daughters and learning to love oneself, The First Time She Drowned reminds us that we must dive deep into our pasts if we are ever to move forward.