Rummanah Aasi
  Alex Flinn's critically acclaim book, Breathing Underwater is one of my go to books for teens looking for a serious, well written, contemporary novel. Many books written about abusive teen relationships are written from the perspective of the victim, who is almost always a female. Breathing Underwater is the first book written not only by a male point of view but also of the abuser. Check back tomorrow with my interview with Ms. Flinn about her book and the recent controversy of it being challenged in Richland School in Washington.   

Description (from Goodreads): Nick is one of the chosen few at his high school: intelligent, popular, and wealthy. People think his life is pretty easy. Except for one thing. Nick has never told anyone about his father's violent temper.
  When Nick meets Caitlin, he thinks she is the answer to all his problems. Caitlin is everything Nick has ever wanted- beautiful, talented, and in love with him. But then everything changes, and Nick must face the fact that he has gotten more from his father than green eyes and money.

Review: Breathing Underwater is an absorbing read, allowing the reader to get a chance to learn about the abuse from the abuser's perspective. Flinn does a remarkable job in bringing the important and hot issue of abusive teen relationships with authenticity and rawness without ever resorting to cliches or the dreaded after-school specials that we were made to see in school.
  When the book opens, we are witnessing Nick's trial. We quickly learn that Nick was arrested because he physically assaulted his girlfriend, Caitlin, who now seeks a restraining order against him. The judge requires him to join an anger management class and to keep a journal recording his thoughts. Through a diary format, we learn how things between Caitlin and Nick transpired and go on a journey of self discovery and a chance at redemption.
  Nick is everything a guy could want. He is rich, handsome, athletic, and smart. While he superficially has everything he could desire, what he longs for and is in desperate need of is love. Much to everyone's ignorance, Nick is subjected to his father's physical and verbal abuse. Believing he can handle himself, Nick doesn't seek help and tries to avoid his father's triggers though he doesn't always succeed. Nick has always felt left out and carries a hole in chest. He craves attention and a driving desire to feel secure and loved by hanging out with his friends and their families. When he comes across the beautiful, sweet Caitlin, he believes that his hole could be filled by just being with her.
  The power of Breathing Underwater isn't in the plot, but the slow horrifying realization that Nick has become like his father without ever thinking about it. His father's physical and verbal abuse has shaped Nick's ideas of how to behave in a relationship: he bullies, tortures, and finally hits Caitlin. At first he truly believes that he has done nothing wrong by putting Caitlin 'in her place'; however, things slowly change as he recognizes his anger and abuse when he writes all of his thoughts down. There are loud pauses throughout his journal entries, which comes across as Nick trying at first to rationalize his actions but then admitting he was wrong to behave like he did. His anger permeates his writing and body language.
  Though we are aware of Nick's background and feel bad for him, his behavior toward Caitlin are never justified or forgiven. Like life, things aren't wrapped up nicely in a bow where everyone suddenly changes and is forgiven for the mistakes they made. The situations and dialogue ring frighteningly true, detailing the familiar cycle of abuse. I was really happy to see Nick's friends pick up on the red flags regarding his treatment of Caitlin and coming to her help. The sessions at the anger management classes that Nick attends are eye opening and with a twist I never saw coming.
 Breathing  Underwater isn't about placing blame, but rather admitting that you have a problem and you are willing to seek help. I would highly recommend reading this book because abusive teen relationship is a real problem and the more we learn about the issue, the better we can find a solution.

Rating: 4 stars

Why is was Challenged: On January 25th, 2012, Richland, Washington school district challenged Breathing Underwater and two other books due to "profanity," "dark themes," and "sexual content."  Source: Alex Flinn's blog
 In March 13, 2012, Breathing Underwater was reviewed approved for 12th grade. Source: Richland School Board Minutes.

Words of Caution: I generally have a hard time understanding the issues surrounding challenges of realistic fiction. Yes, there is a dark theme of dating violence in the book, but unfortunately it's a reality. I really don't know how you can address the issue of dating violence without showing any of it, which this book does very tastefully. We get enough to understand what is happening and it is used for a purpose. There is some language, an allusion to sex (to be honest, it's like a fade out scene, you get more on today's TV shows, and violence in the book which would make it PG-13 if it were a movie. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Things Change by Patrick Jones, Bitter End by Jennifer Brown, But I Love Him by Amanda Grace, Albatross by Josie Bloss

11 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    I can't say I've ever read a book like this from the abuser's perspective, and I love how you describe how the situation is handled- not about blame but about making oneself aware of the problem. Never heard of this book before, so I'm glad you posted this review today Rummanah!

  2. Wow, this sounds fabulous. Dating abuse isn't dealt with enough in YA and I've never seen it from the abuser's POV. I'm really intrigued.

  3. Wow this is a stunner. I definitely want to read this. You never get to read it from the perspective of the abuser. It is sad that people want to ban it. Sure it may not be appropriate for everyone but it is reality and it has an important message to convey. It makes me sad that books like this get a bad rap while trashy books like Fifty Shades or Gray are all everyone is talking about!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    What a fabulous review!!! Im adding this to my list today~ thank you for sharing. I had no idea this was a challenged book either.

  5. Wow. This one really sounds different. I like the twist that it is the abuser's book and not the victim. I also like that he is made human and yet does not make it okay to abuse. Sounds like a interesting read.

  6. Simply amazing review, Rummanah! I hadn't even known about it before, and I almost can't believe it's from the same author who does all those retelling books. Thanks for providing the additional information. It's true. Aren't readers always saying that they want show over tell?

  7. Candace Says:

    What a beautiful and eloquent review! I've had this book for awhile now but still haven't read it. I've been in an abusive relationship so while I feel the urge to read about them I'm also afraid because I FEEL everything so much. So I tend to put them off. I do agree that teens need to read about this kind of thing. So that girls (or boys) know what to look for and so they can maybe come to the realization that their own relationship is no longer healthy. So often things are just so twisted up in their head they don't even realize how bad it's gotten.
    It really is too bad that they are challenging this book. It makes me sad that they would take a book out of schools that could really actually HELP kids.

  8. That was a Beautiful review Rummanah! I want to run right out and buy a dozen copies and put it in the library at our high school (yes, we only have one). But I think I'll have to settle for a copy for myself. Sometimes, I think it's hard to admit, even to yourself that you're being abused. Sometimes reading about it is the only way to admit that it happened/is happening.

    I wrote to the Richland School District. Melissa at I Swim For Oceans provided a link and they wrote me back telling me that they were holding off on a vote. I never heard the outcome but I'm glad it went through. I'll never understand why realistic fiction is so scary.

    Thanks for writing this review. I'd forgotten all about this book and now I won't forget it after that review. It's going right on my TBR list!

  9. This sounds wonderful and you reviewed it beautifully, but I'm not sure I can handle it at this time. I started Split by Swati Avasthi recently and had to drop it after 50 pages. I'm a wuss like that. :)

  10. I'm adding this one to my wishlist, Rummanah. I like that the author has a backstory for Nick explaining where his abusive tendencies are coming from but that his behaviour never feels justified.

  11. Simply amazing review.thank you for sharing.

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