Discussion Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Title: Underwater
Author: Marisa Reichardt
Genre: contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Source: publishers via NetGalley

“Forgiving you will allow me to forgive myself.”

Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive—first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then herself.

But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school.

When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside.

Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.

Like we have done so many times before, today's review is a discussion review between me and Lyn of Great Imaginations.

Jessie: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt. It’s gotten a lot of attention the last few weeks. Thoughts? Feelings? Impressions? Mine were, in general, positive, but this was not a favorite for me.

Lyn: I have some very conflicting throught. There was some good things in the novel, things that I loved to see in a YA novel. But then there were some things that really annoyed the hell out of me. Which ones do you want to start with?

Jessie: Let’s go with the issues we noticed and wind up with the positives that we liked. Cause while this was a mixed bag, I did like it more than I had problems with it. I didn’t like that Morgan’s personal evolution is jumpstarted by a guy. I know you had the same issue -- I just don’t like the trope of a hot guy’s presence “inspiring” or “fixing” a main character.

Lyn: DING! You get points there. That was the very first issue that jumped out at me. “Love” and “cute boy” are so cliche and just reinforce that girls are nothing until they have a boy to impress or try to date. I think that is a really sad message to send to any woman: change for a guy. Only improve to make yourself date-able. Not for yourself, but for the opposite sex.Then top top it all off, Evan was a real asswipe. He hardly knows Morgan, and when she starts to have a break down, and mind you, this is a girl who is a shut in due to some personal issues she is facing, he tells her to stop having a pity party, and then accuses her of blowing him off? He knows NOTHING of her situation. He uses everyone else’s grief to try to make her feel bad for making him feel bad. Everyone reacts differently to a horrible situation, and he just judged her without all of the facts, and she was the one that felt bad. Evan seemed to do no wrong, and was this savior character in the novel, when he labeled someone’s breakdown, after a major breakthrough (which go hand and hand) as a PITY PARTY.  FUCK THAT BOY. There is a time and a place to use very straight forward language, but that wasn’t it, and you don’t use it with someone going to therapy for facing such issues.

Okay, I think I have it all out. That just really pisses me off.

Jessie: Well, I didn’t have the antipathy for Evan that you did. I did have major major issues with how he acted at times, but he also does go out of his way to connect with Morgan, to encourage her when he can. I get that maybe his words could be chosen with more care but he is also a teenage boy who lost his cousin, lost his home, and yet still tries to reach out to another person in pain. I really liked that. He wasn’t perfect -- far from -- but he wasn’t a brash, macho dude with no time for anyone else’s pain. I mean Morgan clearly needs real help -- and GETS IT in therapy, another positive for this novel -- and Evan tries. He’s imperfect, but he tries.

Lyn: I think that impression at the start colored my opinion, because I only found him trying at the end. I found him only doing what he wanted. He never seemed to care about Morgan’s boundaries, like when she was upset when his mother found them together, or only getting warmed back up to her when she started to talk to him. I thought of him as someone who found Morgan worth it if it was worth his time. But I’m also bitter pretty angry in general, so it is interesting to see the different points of view when it comes to Evan. I think I would have blown him off forever, and that would have been that.

What I kinda thought would be cool if it was Taylor who would of helped Morgan after Evan dropped her, like, in a really cool twist, a girl/girl friendship. I would have LOVED more Taylor. She was so AWESOME.

Jessie: I did like that Morgan realizes her snap judgment of Taylor based on her appearance/own prejudices was way off base. All aspects of that interaction were so realistic to teen girls, and even adult women. I liked that Morgan’s path to mental health wasn’t shown to be the only one. I really appreciate that therapy was shown in a positive, healthy, manageable light (more of this, please!) but I do love that Taylor was shown to be coping with the trauma in her own way.

Lyn: I know that poor Taylor was kinda used as the “other girl” angle, but Morgan did learn an important lesson, and I think it did help Morgan, in a way, to see how the tragedy changed her, and she started to see that something so horrible changing you can be a beautiful thing, if you want it to be beautiful, or it can be ugly if you let it bloom into something horrible. And when I found Morgan’s full story, I understood her sorrow and why she held in so much blame, and why she held herself accountable for everyone’s misery. That one one great thing about the novel - a teenage girl would have seen that small act of kindness as something horrible, and would think that it was her fault. That was very true to life. I would have certainly thought it was my fault if I had done the same thing. Taylor seemed to show off her scars with pride, while guilt was chewing away at Morgan, and I think Morgan started to want more. She wanted forgiveness and life.

Jessie: I thought the plotting in this story was excellent. I was worried that the buildup might exceed the strength of the “reveal” of what happened that day but Reichardt really nailed it. The emotions and guilt that Morgan bottled up were so hard to read, especially when you learn what she so desperately regrets and blames herself for. Morgan is realistic in a lot of aspects but dealing with the fallout of all those lives lost and people hurt… I can’t even imagine the mental toll weighing on her constantly. I thought her characterization regarding that was handled so so well.

Lyn: I was surprised that Morgan’s characterization was handled so well, since some other parts fell apart so easily. Like at times, some of the hard parts got the Stephanie Meyer Resolution Technique - difficult situations were just kinda resolved with no resistance. For example, the whole part with Morgan’s father - that didn’t feel very realistic. It felt very Life Time Movie Special-y. You don’t dodge rehab for years due to some very serious PTSD and then just suddenly come around because your teenage daughter yelled at you. But then, the relationship with Ben and Morgan was written perfectly, and Ben wasn’t a super-special kid, he was a regular kindergarten boy, and that made him so loveable, and it was so cute to watch the two of them interact, so the book balanced between believable and then glurgy.

Jessie: I am going to have to disagree with you about her dad. While not all people have a “wake up moment” sometimes it does and can happen that way. I could see the way the author slowly revealed the issues with her dad as adding up to a firmer resolution in the second half of the novel. I didn’t seem abrupt or too fast to me; this had clearly been a years-long battle and seeing that view of himself -- from his son’s eyes and hearing it from his daughter -- could be enough for him to finally extend a hand and accept help. I don’t think that all of a sudden he will be healthy and a part of the family again, but that steps are being taken towards that goal.

Lyn: You have a valid point - sometimes it does that one moment for everything to come crashing down. I worry that the root cause of a lot of issues in the book was never really discussed, you know? I hope that people know that it is going to take a lot more than just LOVE to fix some of the issues that these people faced the in the book. Morgan needed a lot more than a hot next door neighbor. She did have therapy, and like you said, that was the reason why I bumped it up a star, but PTSD or any other disorder was never brought up. I worry that her father’s sudden change of heart will make people think, “Well, he’s going to get all better now!” because he is going to have a very long road ahead of him. He might skip out again. He might never get better. I just really hate to think about the false hope, if this isn’t what would help him. But on the other side of the coin, what if this does fix him, and this leads to some sort of relationship with his kids?

I am certainly not saying it couldn’t happen. I just cringe when people try to say that a sudden change of heart, or some sort of event can suddenly cure a mental illness.  That is what I rally against.

Jessie: Underwater definitely does bring up a lot of mental health discussions (some more successfully than others), and we haven’t even touched on the “event” that set the book into motion. Not that we need to or are going to, but I think this book is great for fostering/starting a discussion at least.

Lyn: I’ll give it this - you’re not going to walk away and go, “Meh.” What was your final rating?

Jessie: For me this was a solid 3-star read. I liked it but it wasn’t without flaws. Morgan/WoC therapist/mental health discussions/strong and believable brother-sister dynamic were high points. What about you?

Lyn: It was 3 stars. I loved the pro-family friendship, Morgan’s realistic traits and emotions, and the therapy, despite the icky romance and the heavy drama overtaking some of the more important issues happening at times. So I awarded it all 3 stars. :)

Check out some of our other discussion reviews: 

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