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Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter

( 9 )

Overview

"George Flynn can't help himself. He's still haunted by the fallout from his first love, and keeps sneaking glances back to how it began. Uprooted after his family's move to Des Moines, George is the new nobody on the block, with no friends and no clue. He soon finds his footing when he falls in with the enchanting Schell sisters. Emily, an aspiring and the mysterious star of St. Pius High School, becomes the object of his deep infatuation. But it's the younger sister, Katie - with her crush, her quirks, and her scathing deadpan humor in the face ...

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Weeping Underwater Looks a lot Like Laughter

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Overview

"George Flynn can't help himself. He's still haunted by the fallout from his first love, and keeps sneaking glances back to how it began. Uprooted after his family's move to Des Moines, George is the new nobody on the block, with no friends and no clue. He soon finds his footing when he falls in with the enchanting Schell sisters. Emily, an aspiring and the mysterious star of St. Pius High School, becomes the object of his deep infatuation. But it's the younger sister, Katie - with her crush, her quirks, and her scathing deadpan humor in the face of multiple sclerosis - who really gets George hooked on the Schells." After a shocking accident destroys the delicate balance of their lives, George and Emily travel through anger, depression, and cheap motel rooms, searching for forgiveness yet losing each other. On this simultaneously hopeful and self-destructive journey, George struggles to win Emily back in order to save himself.

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Editorial Reviews

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George Flynn is in love with Emily Schell. From their first meeting in high school, he’s completely smitten, with the pure and idealistic feelings that often characterize a deep first love. Friends for two years before their first kiss, their time together is measured with the benchmarks of school plays, the SATs, and wrestling matches – a high-school romance both happy and innocent.

Much of their time together is spent with Emily’s sister Katie, a sickly and lonely young girl who harbors her own feelings for George. Katie is smart, sarcastic, and witty – and serves as the couple’s unofficial chaperone. However, the summer after their senior year, when the trio heads off on a fishing trip together, what began as a fun romp becomes a horrifying disaster. Plagued by feelings of guilt, George and Emily struggle to make sense of the tragedy. Though they stay together for some time afterward – each trying to find their way into adulthood and out of the morass of complicated emotions – theirs is a love story with a definitive conclusion.

Filled with sweetness and yearning, White’s debut novel is a beautiful love story set amid catastrophe. It at once reminds one of the unadulterated joys in life, as well as the curveballs that same life inevitably throws our way.

Publishers Weekly
The title of White’s first novel says little about the story found within, but much about the heavily stylized narrative. High school junior George Flynn, newly transplanted to Des Moines, Iowa, spends his first night in town in a hotel while a murder takes place on the floor below his family’s room. This adds a slight edge to the regular stress of being the new kid at school, but George soon falls into familiar coming-of-age patterns, becoming infatuated with Emily Schell, the school’s leading actress, and befriending Emily’s caustic, multiple sclerosis–afflicted younger sister, Katie. By navigating Katie’s nascent crush and the slippery territory of “friendship” with Emily, George quickly discovers how he fits in Des Moines, but a tragic accident unravels his new life even as it may be leading him down the path to love. White is at his best when his characters churn through unanswered and unanswerable questions, such as the hotel murder and the events that propel the novel’s second half. Conversely, the author stumbles on the details of George’s adult life, while young George and Emily’s adventures feel constructed and artificial, as if the story’s main goal is to appear clever. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Set in mid-1990s Des Moines, White's debut novel focuses on teenager George Flynn and his complex relationship with Emily Schell. George first gains Emily's friendship by winning over her younger sister, Katie, who has a rare early-onset version of MS. The friendship eventually blossoms into love, but a tragic event impacts their relationship and the direction of their lives following high school. White's smart, ironic prose style is reminiscent of the work of Dave Eggers, though at times the self-conscious cleverness and metafictional touches threaten to overwhelm the flow of the narrative. While some characters are fully drawn, others, such as George's parents, barely register. Though the story takes a while to gel, at its heart is a romantic and ultimately sad love story featuring an extremely likable narrator. VERDICT A funny and affecting account of first love by a new author worth watching.—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
Kirkus Reviews
Boy gets girl in this high-school romance, but only after an interminable wait. The disastrous Mississippi River flood of 1993 has forced the Flynn family to leave their home in Davenport, Iowa, and relocate to Des Moines. At his new high school, 17-year-old narrator/protagonist George first sees Emily Schell in the homecoming play and is soon head over heels. Getting to know Emily means getting involved with her smart, outspoken, 13-year-old sister Katie, who has multiple sclerosis and relies on a crutch. George feels guilty using her to win Emily, especially as Katie develops a monster-size crush on him. Emily, attractive as she is, chooses to not have a boyfriend. Since George has a clear shot, why does it take them so long to couple up? Their first kiss comes at the one-third point; coitus interruptus at two-thirds; then there's yet another wait until they go all the way. The principals are as baffled by the long postponement as the reader. White needs a Big Event to juice the story, and it occurs when Katie drowns in a boating accident. George and Emily were at the scene, and George feels waves of guilt-irrationally, for he was clearly not to blame. This undigested guilt lodges itself in the narrative, obscuring George's momentous decision to forgo college for construction work as Emily drops out of Northwestern. By this point, the author has lost control of his material, embellishing the mundane when he should be paring back, unsure whether to bind his lovers more closely or have them break up. A dull debut, with no chemistry between its sweethearts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594430872
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael J. White was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, though he did spend a few formative years in Des Moines. He is a Columbia MFA graduate and now lives in Brooklyn.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Step Back In Time

    Michael White's novel is a wonderful story about two people who are coming of age, dealing with their feelings for life, their feelings for each other, and at the same time discovering how they can handle a crisis and the subsequent fallout from it. As you read this story you may find yourself thinking back to the days of your first love, the things you did and the adventures you traveled. What you'll also discover is that when you look back on this how much you have evolved as you came into age and how it shaped your young adulthood - how your early years shape you as a person. This book, with all it's whit, charm, laughter and tears, will undoubtedly be a fond addition to the list of books you've read. I look at it in my library and smile.

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  • Posted June 1, 2010

    Home is Where The Heart is.

    Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter is a witty, coming-of-age sort of tale that dances a blurry line between tragedy and romance. In his debut, White employs an honest, straight-forward styled prose, coupled with with real life characters and poignant everyday observations, giving the novel a vaguely visceral quality that hits home. I have to say my opinion is probably more than a little swayed by the fact that I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, where the story is set. I went to Lyons Park in the summers, and saw movies at Billy Joe's Picture Show, and Saylorville Lake was practically in my backyard, so the experiences related to us were intensely familiar to me, and brought back many lovely childhood memories. I also empathize with some of the more subtle sociological trends of the Middle-American population Whites's main character George spoke of, such as the "the daily gossip-mongering and passive-aggressive nitpicking that in my experience thrive on such hosts as midsize Midwestern cities with inextricable ties to their state's agricultural economy." I found this a more than accurate description of behavior I had witnessed all my life, but could never really put my finger on.
    The narrative is that of a teenage boy, George, who has just moved to a bigger city, and instantly falls for a budding actress at his new school by the name of Emily Schell. He's lucky enough to have his affection returned but learns that Emily comes sort of as a packaged deal with her sister, Katie, who has a debilitating disease. As the three become a merry band of mischievous adolescents, a triangle begins to form when Katie develops a crush on George. Just as things start to get interesting, tragedy strikes, and their world is turned upside-down. Now George struggles to hold on to Emily as the two work separately to work through their grief and attempt to put their lives back together as best they can without the missing pieces.
    I thought this was an excellent first book, and found it deeply moving, laugh-out-loud hysterical, and hit-the-nail-on-the-head clever all at the same time. I'd recommend it to anyone with good taste.

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  • Posted April 17, 2010

    This book stuck with me. I enjoyed the way the writer told his story. I recommended the book to others.

    I agree with the voices of each of the reviewer's that are featured on the cover of the novel. This book will be one that I will read over again.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    Just right

    Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter is one of those books you want to be a part of. I wished as I was reading it that I could be a character in the story. Even though it's told in the voice of a teenage boy, any reader could relate to what he goes through...and you'll really hope he triumphs in the end. First love, for all of the main characters, is made all the more alluring by the circumstances that interfere. George and the Schell sisters poignantly lean on and help each other through heartache, joy, and loss in this story you won't want to end.

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