book reviews · NetGalley · Revell Reads · Theme Chatter

The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water by Erin Bartels

Theme Chatter

Lost friendship was a strong theme in this novel. I can’t help but think of my best friend in Kindergarten. I loved playing with Mandy and taking turns riding her pony, and we even dressed alike for Twinkie Day at school that year, making sure we brought along our matching Rainbow Bright dolls, and securing the Twinkie treat for dressing up like twins. We lost touch after that one magical year, when she switched schools (I would do the same thing a few years later), but I have carried my fond memories of my “lost friend” with me as life marched on through the years.

How has friendship played a role in your life?

Book Review

FTC DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy of this book. These are my honest thoughts.

I was totally looking forward to this book as soon as I saw the stunning cover and found out the story was about a writer on a deadline hiding out at her grandfather’s secluded, lake-front cabin. That sounded like it would be right up my alley.

Sadly, this book ended up not being to my taste.

If the blurb had mentioned it had an overwhelmingly strong theme of sexual abuse of a child, I never would have chosen to read it. I am not the target audience for such a book; that theme is not one I enjoy reading about.

The sexual tension between a child and a teenager was so thick that nearly every scene between the two characters felt slimy and gross. It also made me wonder why the younger character “liked” the older one, as he never proved trustworthy in the least. There was nothing likable about him, so I really struggled to see why the younger character had a crush on him. Because of that sexual tension and the abuse situation (shown in vivid detail), this was a really tough book to read.

Alcohol—beer and hard liquors—were consumed often throughout this story, with zero regret about it in any of the characters. I don’t enjoy reading about alcoholics who don’t realize they have a problem.

The leads stayed in the same cabin for a full summer even though they were unmarried. This tarnished the “romance” for me, as it was awkward and immoral. It also led to some crude sexual innuendo in a few spots, which naturally led to some awkward mental images.

A character said, “I’m allergic to peanut butter,” which rightfully made another character freak out about having made a peanut butter sandwich for him—only to have him admit, “I’m kidding. Only kidding. To lighten the mood.” Food allergies are serious and are often life-threatening. Many, many people have died from peanut allergies alone (and there are numerous other serious food allergies in existence). This “humor” was not funny to me, as I understand from personal experience how serious and life-threatening food allergies can be.

I wish this novel would have been clean and included more than a couple of passing thoughts about God’s existence. It really felt like a general market book for how crude, alcoholic, and sexual it was. This was quite shocking coming from a Christian publisher I’d come to trust to publish clean romances.

The one thing I completely loved about this book was the mechanics of the author’s writing style. I had never before seen an approach that felt like the entire book was a letter written to the lead’s best friend. Nor had I seen a book that so seamlessly slipped from present-day into memories and back again. These aspects of the writing style hooked me in (as well as I could be with the aforementioned content involved). They were fresh, unique, superb, immersive, unexpected, and exquisite. I only wish they were used in a much cleaner story.

The writing style might have been exactly what I was in the mood for, but the content of the story was not. I do hope it is a helpful story for people needing to heal from broken pasts involving sexual abuse. My heart goes out to the author (as per the author’s note) and other victims of sexual abuse, whether child or adult. Those scenarios are never fair or right, and they shatter my heart every time (this novel included).

Content: immodest clothing (bikinis), alcohol (excessive), tobacco, crude sexual innuendo, mythology mentioned, sexual tension between a child and a teenager, child smoking, nude photos, nudity, skinny-dipping (teens), crude sexual terms, rape, replacement expletives, suicide, casino mentioned, sexual perversion mentioned, premarital sex, illegitimate pregnancy, profanity (German), drugs mentioned

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