Breathing Underwater

Breathing Underwater

4.6 174
by Alex Flinn

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To his friends, popular and handsome sixteen-year-old Nick Andreas has led a charmed life. But the guys in Nick's anger management class know differently. So does his ex-girlfriend Caitlin. Now it looks like the only person who doesn't realize how far from perfect Nick's life has become is Nick himself.

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To his friends, popular and handsome sixteen-year-old Nick Andreas has led a charmed life. But the guys in Nick's anger management class know differently. So does his ex-girlfriend Caitlin. Now it looks like the only person who doesn't realize how far from perfect Nick's life has become is Nick himself.

Editorial Reviews

Jon Cryer brilliantly captures the surly, sullen tone of 16-year-old Nick Andreas's first-person narration, which begins the day he arrives at court, charged with physical violence against his girlfriend. Ordered to attend Mario Ortega's Family Violence class and to keep a journal, Nick resists the former, but finds increasing solace -- and a vehicle for telling his backstory -- in his journal. Anger burns beneath the surface of Nick's memories, his daily life, his relationship with his brutal father, and his longing for love. Cryer's pacing is spot-on as he rides the roller coaster of Nick's fury, passion, lust, and yearning. He is equally successful with the voices of the mixed ethnic/racial group in Mario's class and with Mr. Andreas's Greek accent. Flinn's popular YA novel gains added depth and power through this superb audio production.
Publishers Weekly
In what PW called "a gripping tale," a 16-year-old, who is considered perfect by his classmates, suffers a turbulent home life with an abusive father, and he himself follows the pattern of violence. Ages 13-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ever feel like you're breathing underwater, and you have to stop because you're gulping in too much fluid?" For 16-year-old Nick Andreas, these words from his violence counselor ring true. While his classmates think of him as rich, popular and perfect, they don't know the truth about his turbulent home life with an abusive father. As Flinn's first novel opens, Nick finds himself in court, facing a restraining order by his girlfriend, Caitlin. He is sentenced to six months of counseling and to write 500 words per week in a journal, explaining what happened from the day he met Caitlin to the present. Set in Miami and told in a split narrative, the novel juxtaposes Nick's journal entries about his past relationship with Caitlin alongside the current challenges of going back to school with his friends turned against him, his counseling sessions and life with his father. Gradually, he begins to recognize his own responsibility in how events played out ("Somehow, when I see it on paper, it becomes more real than when it's just in my head"). The correlation between Nick's controlling behavior and his father's abuse is subtle but effective. Caitlin's insecurity, borne of self-image problems due to a previous weight problem and her beautiful mother's badgering, is also credibly rendered. The ending scene with Nick's best friend rings a bit hollow, but as Nick's past comes to light, both the circumstances and his owning up to his actions carry heavy emotional weight in this gripping tale. Ages 13-up.
Sixteen-year-old Nick Andreas—handsome, popular, athletic—is in big trouble and deep denial. Barely sidestepping jail time, Nick is sentenced by a tough, wise judge to anger-management classes and to keeping a journal to force him to face the consequences of his violent behavior toward his lovely girlfriend, Caitlin. Nick's life is a recipe for disaster. Abandoned by his mother at five, raised by his shockingly cruel and physically punishing wealthy father, Nick thinks his luck is changing when the formerly obese, now slim Caitlin responds to his love. Their sweet romance gradually unravels, however, as Nick, threatened by Caitlin's beauty and interest in singing and in her friends, employs increasingly savage tactics to control and isolate her, all in the name of his great love for her. Flinn spares nothing in this wrenchingly realistic account of the devastating cause-and-effect, downward spiral of knee-jerk patterns learned at the fist of a brutal father, behaviors that surface despite Nick's resolve to the contrary. Caitlin's own response, born of poor body image, is to try harder to "do better" so Nick will love her. The cycle plays out to its awful conclusion when he beats her bloody. Enter the anger-management therapy sessions, run by a gifted counselor who has "been there" himself, and the growing self-knowledge that ever so slowly is revealed in Nick's journal. Thus the seeds of healing are formed. The messages in this unsparing novel of teenage love turned dangerous are powerful, on target, and almost too painful to read—exactly why this highly recommended book should be required reading for all teenagers. It is a road map to warning signs, consequences, and thevery real hope of redemption if the cycle of abuse is to be caught and treated in time. PLB . VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, HarperCollins, 272p, . Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Beth E. Andersen SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
Children's Literature
This finely crafted first novel is a realistic and poignant portrayal of a young man seemingly destined to perpetuate the cycle of domestic violence. To the outside world, Nick Andreas is a sixteen-year-old rich kid. An athlete as well as honor student, Nick is one of the coolest guys in school. And he has a one-in-million girlfriend in Caitlin. One would never think that he is a victim of his father's violent attacks. When Nick's controlling behavior causes him to slap Caitlin, Nick finds himself ostracized by his fellow students, and he has a restraining order against him. As part of his sentence, Nick is required to attend counseling and to keep a personal journal. Between the counseling sessions, the reflective journal entries and the narrative, Ms. Finn comes as close to getting inside her character's head as novelists of greater experience can hope to achieve. She pulls no punches here; the ugliness and brutality of domestic violence, as well as the sheer mountainous task of breaking the cycle, are depicted with unusual candor. In the end, Nick's self-examination provides some reason for hope, but refreshingly, there is no sugarcoated happy ending. 2001, HarperCollins, $15.95 and $15.89. Ages 13 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
The eye-catching cover of this outstanding first novel offers a helpful clue to its contents: a grotesque, rage-filled face is scrawled over the features of a handsome young man, with words scribbled on the side; the word "anger" is prominent. We first meet Nick, 16-year-old "rich kid, honor student, coolest guy around," at a Florida courthouse where he is accused of hitting his girlfriend. The judge decides on a restraining order, counseling, and classes on dealing with violence and anger. She also requires Nick to write a journal, explaining what happened between him and Caitlin. The novel consists of this journal detailing the history of their relationship, interspersed with Nick's narration of life in the present. We learn how he met his "dream girl" and gradually grew more controlling, jealous, and abusive; how his father always puts him down and uses him as a punching bag, and how his mother ran away when he was little; and how he envies his friend Tom and his happy family. We also learn about what happens in the classes on violence and anger management, and see Nick's realistically difficult journey to understanding and controlling his behavior. He finally comes to accept that he can't have Caitlin back, and that he must come to grips with his loneliness, his insecurity, and the hard-won recognition that being a man means taking responsibility for his actions. Flinn, a lawyer, based this powerful and convincing story on her experience trying domestic violence cases at the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, according to the jacket flap. It's beautifully told, with believable and well-rounded characters, and it manages to make us feel for Nick without sympathizing with hisreprehensible actions. An important book for both young men and young women to read. Some profanities. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, HarperCollins, 264p. 00-044933., $15.95. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; KLIATT , July 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 4)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Nick, an upper-income, popular, straight-A high school student, not only copes with his father's verbal and physical abuse, but his own abusive behavior toward his girlfriend, Caitlin, in this novel by Alex Flinn (HarperCollins, 2001). After a court appearance, he must regularly attend group therapy sessions with members across the social strata, and keep a daily journal in order to stay out of jail. Through these experiences, his barriers and prejudices break down and he is able to begin his road to recovery on many levels. Narrator Jon Cryer brings Nick to life with his restrained anger, pain, and confusion. Listeners begin to understand the insidious logic Nick uses to justify the "slap" Caitlin "deserves," and how easily it can spiral out of control. Cryer's subtle vocal inflections with sarcasm and sense of timing, especially pauses, are superb; he allows us to hear the cruelty in a simple statement by virtue of its tone. Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and one of the Hughes Brat Pack (Pretty in Pink), his acting skills span a wide range of roles. The voices of other characters, while integral to the story, are not memorable. This may have to do more with the story itself than the narrator's abilities to perform this task. The story never lets up; anger permeates it from beginning to end. Suitable for high school students, this could be a powerful tool when integrated with the curriculum.-Tina Hudak, St. Bernard's School, Riverdale, MD Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Nick Andreas—16, rich, smart, popular—seems to have a perfect life, and when beautiful, talented Caitlin becomes his girlfriend, it looks to outsiders as though it can't get any better. After beating up Caitlin, however, Nick receives a restraining order to stay away from her and is sentenced to complete a family violence program, as well as to keep a journal that describes his relationship with her. First-novelist Flinn combines Nick's present-day life—attempts to win back his former girlfriend, anger-management meetings, and struggles to maintain self-control—with diary entries that reveal his controlling and abusive relationship with Caitlin, his own verbal and physical abuse by his father, and low self-esteem. With such important subject matter, particularly for young males, and research by the author, there's potential here; however, it fails to meet readers' expectations. Characters, stereotypical at times, are not fully developed, and the language is often contrived. Nick's anger appears out of nowhere when he begins to date Caitlin and subsides too quickly by the end. Although it shouldn't be used for bibliotherapy, it offers a lot to think about, and many teens will probably overlook its major flaws because of the format and real-world content. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

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Chapter One

January 5

Justice Building, Miami, Florida

I've never been in a courthouse before. But then, I've never been in such deep shit before, either. The metal detector screams when I walk through, and a security woman tries to check my pockets. I pull away.

"These what you want?" I dangle my keys an inch from her nose, getting in her face. She backs off, scowling. I throw them into her yellow plastic basket and walk through again."You were supposed to give me those first," she says.

"Sorry." I'm not.

Behind me, my father flings in his keys. "You're always sorry, Nicholas, always forgetting." Then, he looks at the security woman, and his expression becomes a smile. "Miss, if you would please be so kind to tell me where is this courtroom?" He hands her the notice for my hearing.

She smiles too, taken in like everyone else by his Armani suit and Greek accent. "Second floor." She looks at me. "Restraining order, huh?"

"Trouble with his girlfriend." My father shakes his head. "He is sixteen."

I stare forward, remembering a day on the beach, Caitlin laughing, a white hibiscus in her hair. Was it only a month ago? God, how did we get here?

My father nudges me onto the escalator, and it bears me up, high above the white-tiled floors and the metal detector, far from the security woman's gaze. We reach the top, and he shoves me through a green door.

The courtroom smells like old books and sweat. Brown benches, like church pews, face the witness stand. On the front wall, gold letters read:

Miami-Dade County, Florida

We Who Labor Here Seek Only theTruth

Fine, if you know what the truth is. Caitlin sits with her mother in the center pew. Dressed in white, her blond hair loose, she looks like something from our mythology book, a nymph, maybe, pursued by a beast. Guess I'm the beast. I pass her.

"Why are you doing this, Cat?" I whisper. "I thought we had something special."Caitlin examines her knees, but I can tell her eyes are brimming. "Yeah, Nick. I thought so too."

"Then, why--?"

"You know why." She moves to the other side of her mother.

I must stand there a second too long, because my father shoves me forward. I take a seat in the fourth row. He leaves a gap between us, opens his briefcase, and removes a thick folder. Work. I try to catch his eye. "Do you think they'll--?"

His eyes narrow in annoyance. "Nicos, this is important." He gestures at the folder.I look away. From across the room, I feel Caitlin's mom staring and Caitlin trying not to. So I concentrate, really concentrate, on making my face a mask. I'm good at that. People at school--my ex-friends, even Tom, who used to be my best friend--see me how I want them to: Nick Andreas, sixteen-year-old rich kid, honor student, coolest guy around. All fake. Only Caitlin knew the truth about the warfare with my father. She knew how humiliating it was warming the bench in football all season.

Telling her that stuff was a mistake. It's easier to fake it. When you fake it for sixteen years, it becomes part of you, something you don't think about. Maybe that's why I can hold a smile when the judge--a female judge who's sure to take Caitlin's side--enters and Caitlin takes the witness stand. I grin like an idiot as the bailiff swears Caitlin in and a lawyer in a gray polyester skirt begins asking her questions.

"State your name," the polyester lawyer says.

"Caitlin Alyssa McCourt."

Polyester points to the paper she's holding. "Is this your statement, Miss McCourt?"

Caitlin nods. "You'll have to voice your answers for the record."


"Is it your testimony you were involved in a relationship with the respondent, Nicholas Andreas?" Yes. "Is he here today?" Yes. "Point him out, please."

Caitlin's finger stretches toward me. I meet her eyes, try to make her remember all the good times. Bad move. Her tears, brimming before, spill out, unchecked. A tissue is offered. Polyester keeps going.

"Was the relationship a sexual one?"

Caitlin's hands twist in her lap. "Yes."

"Was the sex consensual?"

Cat says nothing, glancing at her mother. The question takes me by surprise. Does she mean to lie about that too, make it rape, what we did together? It wasn't. Polyester repeats the question, and Caitlin says, "I heard you. I was thinking." She looks at her mother again and wipes another tear. Her chin juts forward. Finally, she says, "Yes. It was consensual. Nick and I . . . I loved him."

In her seat two rows away, Mrs. McCourt shakes her head. Now, Caitlin stares forward.

"What happened December 12?" Polyester asks.

I look at the wall, my attention suddenly riveted by a palmetto bug, feelers writhing. I could kill it if I wanted.

"He hit me."

The bug slides to the floor.

Breathing Underwater. Copyright © by Alex Flinn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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