Learning Not to Drown

( 3 )


Family secrets cut to the bone in this mesmerizing debut novel about a teen whose drug-addicted brother is the prodigal son one time too many.

There is a pecking order to every family. Seventeen-year old Clare is the overprotected baby; Peter is the typical, rebellious middle child; and Luke is the oldest, the can’t-do-wrong favorite. To their mother, they are a normal, happy family.

To Clare, they are a family on the verge of disaster. Clare: ...

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Learning Not to Drown

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Family secrets cut to the bone in this mesmerizing debut novel about a teen whose drug-addicted brother is the prodigal son one time too many.

There is a pecking order to every family. Seventeen-year old Clare is the overprotected baby; Peter is the typical, rebellious middle child; and Luke is the oldest, the can’t-do-wrong favorite. To their mother, they are a normal, happy family.

To Clare, they are a family on the verge of disaster. Clare: the ambitious striver; Peter: the angry ticking time bomb; and Luke: a drug-addicted convicted felon who has been in and out of jail for as long as Clare can remember—and who has always been bailed out by their parents.

Clare loves Luke, but life as his sister hasn’t been easy. And when he comes home (again), she wants to believe this time will be different (again). Yet when the truths behind his arrests begin to surface, everything Clare knows is shaken to its core. And then Luke is arrested. Again.

Except this time is different, because Clare’s mom does the unthinkable on Luke’s behalf, and Clare has to decide whether turning her back on family is a selfish act…or the only way to keep from drowning along with them.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Shinoda's auspicious debut opens with 17-year-old Clare's patchy childhood memory of finding blood in her home. The chapters alternate between Clare's present life—in which she's a diligent student, lifeguard, and all-around good kid—and her sometimes tender but often unsettling memories of her older brother Luke, a charming yet destructive drug addict. For years, the family has been plagued by Luke, now 29, who has repeatedly been jailed for violence and theft. Now, Luke is home again, and Clare hopes that Skeleton, a manifestation of her repressed memories, "will go away, the whispers will stop, and my favorite memories of Luke will snap together perfectly with the present." Instead, Luke's delinquency resumes and her parents once again protect him, leaving Clare to decide how to escape the shadow Luke casts over her life. With the aim of helping readers similarly burdened by the guilt of putting one's own needs first, Shinoda explores the intricate web of sibling dynamics and the devastation of addiction. Despite the painful subject matter, witnessing Clare's growing sense of self-worth is uplifting. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jennie Dunham, Dunham Literary. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Learning Not to Drown is a courageous, nuanced, and accurate look at the struggled faced by families living with incarcerated loved ones. Anna Shinoda's deeply informed story is not to be missed." - Dr. Drew of Loveline, HLN, and Celebrity Rehab
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Great SAT scores, a summer lifeguarding job, and good friends are not enough to keep deep family secrets from ruining Clare Tovin's life. The high school junior is shadowed by Skeleton, a sardonic and mocking presence always reminding her that her beloved older brother, Luke, cannot be trusted. Ignoring Skeleton, Clare follows her mother's lead, at first, excusing Luke's criminal activities that land him in prison as, "being in the wrong place at the wrong time." Luke's genuine affection and caring for his little sister also endears him to readers, as he drifts in and out of town, always welcomed with open arms by Clare's mother and father, but not so much by brother, Peter. Myopic and unreasonably strict with Clare, her parents are quick to ground her for minor infractions, a double standard never enforced with the boys. Clare's lifeguarding job and friendships with Drea and Ryan, allow her some normalcy, and pride in accomplishment as she mentors a young bully who cannot swim. When Clare's mother yanks her away from her friends and job to visit her grandmother, and later withdraws all of the savings from Clare's bank account to bail Luke out of jail, the teen finally stands up for herself. The addition of Skeleton, and flashbacks, as literary devices, is clever and allows Clare to learn the truth about her stifling home life, and conflicting emotions about Luke, at a realistic pace. Multilayered and suspenseful, this novel is a page-turner.—Vicki Reutter, State University of New York at Cortland
Kirkus Reviews
Shinoda's first novel introduces readers to 17-year-old Clare Tovin and her Family Skeleton. Clare's 29-year-old brother Luke has been in and out of prison for most of Clare's life. Skeleton is the silent, Cuban cigar–smoking, brandy-drinking specter of Luke's crimes, a constant reminder of Clare's shame at having a criminal for a brother. When Luke announces that he is being released early from his most recent incarceration, Clare begins to hope that maybe this time it will be different; maybe Luke will change, and Skeleton will go away for good. Her controlling mother defends Luke at every turn, claiming that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but Clare finds unexpected allies in her crush, surfer-boy Ryan, her other older brother, 20-something Peter, and even Skeleton. The heartbreaking first-person narration alternates between past and present, and Clare eventually discovers the big brother she adores is guilty of crimes far more violent than repeated theft to fund his alcohol and drug habits. Shinoda's use of Skeleton as a literary device is brilliantly done and never overdone; his interactions with Clare are silent but full of meaning. A thought-provoker that will leave readers contemplating the line between family loyalty and self-preservation. (Fiction. 14-18)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416993933
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 4/1/2014
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 198,487
  • Age range: 14 years
  • Lexile: HL640L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Anna Shinoda was raised in a mountain town so small it lacked a stoplight. She used to escape into the high branches of trees to read and dream stories, out of reach from her own family skeleton. Eventually she climbed down with Learning Not to Drown, her debut novel. Visit Anna at AnnaShinoda.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Learning Not to Drown

  • Chapter 1: Family Skeleton NOW
    Skeletons don’t like to stay in closets.

Most families try to lock them tightly away, buried beneath smiles and posed family pictures. But our Family Skeleton follows me closely with his long, graceful stride.

I guess people in my town think they have a pretty clear picture of Skeleton. Their whispers have haunted me most of the seventeen years of my life, stalking me almost as closely as he does: prison, prison, prison. Shame, shame, shame.

They don’t see him like I do. His eye sockets expand and shrink. His cartoon jaw morphs from smiles to frowns, from serious to surprise. He’s at least six feet tall, and when his bones stretch, he can dunk a basketball without his big toe coming off the ground. He’s quite talented.

When he wants to relax, he lounges in a silk smoking jacket with a Cuban cigar and drinks brandy from a warm snifter. He might have a drinking problem, but I don’t want to be presumptuous.

I think Mom, Dad, Peter, and Luke see Skeleton clearly. After all, they are my family. Although I can’t be sure, since Mom and Dad rarely talk about him, and Peter leaves the room whenever he appears.

Skeleton is the constant reminder of the crimes committed by my brother Luke. I’m used to Skeleton’s taunts, his lanky fingers pointing, the click of his bones when he cartwheels across the room. I’m used to him reminding me he will always be a part of my life story. He will always be there to warn that every action has a reaction, every crime has a consequence.

And the more he hangs around, the more my reputation decays.

Skeleton didn’t always exist—our family photo album shows me what reality was like before he started to appear. But I was too young then to own that memory now, a pre-Skeleton memory. My reality, my memories are like spinning pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that never make a complete picture.

And I can’t help but think, maybe, if Skeleton would go away, we could have perfect again.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2014

    I picked up this book not thinking it would be what it was. Once

    I picked up this book not thinking it would be what it was. Once you start this book, it is hard to put it down. You get so emotionally attached to Clare and what she is going through. This book spoke to me on so many levels. It focuses on an everyday family, with the favorite child, the child looking for attention, and the one child who wants to break free. It connects to everyday life, and I never expected it to have such an impact on myself. Everyone has a skeleton in their closet, and in this story, the family chooses to let it stay there. This story teaches that in order to move on, sometimes it takes for one to embrace the skeletons because it is what makes us who we are. This book was excellently written, and I am thrilled that I picked it up out of curiosity. It will NOT disappoint.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2014

    I really enjoyed reading this book! As the main story progresse

    I really enjoyed reading this book!

    As the main story progresses, we catch glimpses into Clare's and Luke's pasts, the dual stories between past and present makes the book all the more interesting and exciting.

    The only problems I had with the book were Clare's level of trust and her relationships towards her friends.  I also would have liked to see Peter's character develop a little more.

    I also feel like this story could have used some form of an epilogue.  As I finished reading, I was left with so many unanswered questions about Luke's, Clare's, and Skeleton's future.

    Quite honestly, I picked this book up merely because the author's husband is in one of my favorite bands (Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park), but I didn't let those thoughts affect my reading at all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2014

    We often hear the term career criminals. We don't really have mu

    We often hear the term career criminals. We don't really have much compassion for them and just want to lock them up and throw away the key. Some do some pretty horrendous crimes. 

    What we don't do is stop to think about the family they leave behind.
    That is exactly what this book is about. Luke is a what they consider a career criminal. He has been in and out of jail since he was a teenager. His parents have always been on his side 100%, no matter what. Luke has a younger brother and sister that are often emotionally put aside for Luke's needs by their parents.

    The main character in this book is Claire. She grows up with her oldest brother in and out of jail. She was not told until she was 17 what crimes Luke the brother she looks up to, actually committed.

    This book touches on emotions, feelings and situations we don't really think about when we think of criminals. I felt myself feeling sorry for the family not for Luke. Luke choose to do these things, his family did not.

    This is the debut novel by this author. I loved it and hope she writes more. I read this book in 2 days. I just couldn't put it down. I give it a 5 out of 5. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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