Breathing Underwater

Breathing Underwater

by Alex Flinn

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Don’t miss this timely contemporary young adult novel from Alex Flinn, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beastly, about a teenage boy’s struggle to break free from the cycle of abuse.

“Gripping.” —Publishers Weekly

Intelligent, popular, handsome, and wealthy, sixteen-year-old Nick Andreas is pretty much perfect—on the outside, at least. What no one knows—not even his best friend—is the terror and anger that Nick faces every time he is alone with his father.

Then he and Caitlin fall in love, and Nick thinks his problems are over. Caitlin is the one person he can confide in, the only person who understands him. But when Nick’s anger and jealousy overtake him, things begin to spiral out of control and Nick realizes that he’s more his father’s son than he wants to be.

Now Nick must confront his inner demons to stop the history of violence from repeating itself.

Winner of the Black-Eyed Susan Award

An ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults

An International Reading Association Young Adult Choices List Pick

A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age Pick

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062208200
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/13/2012
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 74,058
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Alex Flinn loves fairy tales and is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Beastly, a spin on Beauty and the Beast that was named a VOYA Editor’s Choice and an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Beastly is now a major motion picture starring Vanessa Hudgens. Alex also wrote A Kiss in Time, a modern retelling of Sleeping Beauty; Cloaked, a humorous fairy-tale mash-up; Bewitching, a reimagining of fairy-tale favorites, including Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, and The Little Mermaid, all told by Kendra, the witch from Beastly; Towering, a darkly romantic take on Rapunzel; and Mirrored, a fresh spin on Snow White. Her other books for teens include Breathing Underwater, Breaking Point, Nothing to Lose, Fade to Black, and Diva. She lives in Miami with her family. Visit her online at

Read an Excerpt

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.

Reading Group Guide


Intelligent, popular, handsome, and wealthy, sixteen-year-old Nick Andreas is pretty much perfect -- on the outside, at least. What no one knows -- not even his best friend -- is the terror that Nick faces every time he is alone with his father. Then he and Caitlin fall in love, and Nick thinks his problems are over. Caitlin is the one person who he can confide in. But when things start to spiral out of control, Nick must face the fact that he's gotten more from his father than green eyes and money.

Questions for Discussion

  1. At the beginning of the book, Nick thinks of his abuse of Caitlin: "It was a slap ... one slap when she pushed me way too far. I never beat her up, would never really hurt her." Does Nick believe this? Why or why not?

  2. Why does Judge Lehman make Nick keep a journal in addition to discussing the incidents in Mario's class? Would simply keeping the journal (or simply attending class) yield the same result?

  3. Comparing himself to Tom, Nick says Tom is a great guy, "But we'd all be great guys if we had his life." How do a person's circumstances affect the type of person they are? Apply this to the characters in the book.

  4. At the beginning of the story, Tom has abandoned his longstanding friendship with Nick because of Nick's conduct toward Caitlin. Was this right? What, if any, are our obligations to our friends?

  5. Conversely, should Tom have reacted sooner to Nick's conduct? What is someone's obligation to stop conduct which endangers others? Have you ever had a friend who behaved in an unacceptable way? What, if anything, did you do?

  6. Why did Nick wish toconceal his abuse at his father's hands? Would it have been to his benefit to tell someone? How could it have been to his detriment?

  7. Nick says to Caitlin, "We're two of a kind," and she agrees. How are Nick and Caitlin similar? How are they different?

  8. How are our perceptions of other characters in the book (Saint, Elsa, and Leo, particularly) colored by Nick's opinions? If the book was narrated by Caitlin, how would our opinions be different? What if it was narrated by Elsa?

  9. Does Caitlin have any qualities which make her an easy target for someone like Nick? Conversely, are their qualities which make it easier for her to leave Nick (and stay away) in the end.

  10. Would Nick have gone as far as Leo without help? Why or why not?

  11. In what ways are the guys in Mario's Family Violence Class different from one another? In what ways are they the same? How would Nick's friendship with these guys differ from his friendship with Tom.

  12. At the end of the book, Nick tells Caitlin, "I loved you so much" and she responds, "I can't believe that anymore." Did Nick truly love Caitlin? Why or why not? Does she really not believe him? What makes you think so or not think so?

  13. Nick says of his father's gift of an expensive car, "It's the best he can do." What does he mean by this? Do you think Nick will ever have a relationship with his father? Is there anything Nick could do to improve the relationship? Should he? Should Caitlin's decision about her father be any different than Nick's?

  14. In the final scene, Tom says, "I want things like they used to be" and Nick responds, "They aren't." In what ways do you think things will be different for Nick from now on? Would Nick, given a choice, want things "like they used to be" when he was with Caitlin?

  15. What does the title phrase Breathing Underwater mean?

About the author

When Alex Flinn was five, her mother informed her that she would be "an author" when she grew up. Never one to follow instructions, Alex studied theater and opera and became a lawyer before finally writing her first novel, Breathing Underwater. Alex lives in Miami with her husband, Gene, and their daughters, Katie and Meredith.

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Breathing Underwater 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 195 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
I'm going to say this once, and then we'll all forget it--I spent 90% of this book despising the main character, Nick Andreas. Now that it's out of the way, I can go on to say that I loved BREATHING UNDERWATER and even came, in some small way, to understand--if not actually like--Nick's character.

Nick is the kind of boy that you would look at and immediately say "man, that kid has it all." But you would be wrong. Because although he has a dad who makes a ton of money, and lives in a big, fancy house, and drives a shiny red sports car, Nick doesn't have a fairytale life. His father is abusive, both mentally and physically, and he can't even remember his mother. He has a best friend, Tom, who has the kind of family he wishes he had himself, and a pretty important A-list group of schoolkids that he hangs out with. His life isn't great, but he manages--until he meets Caitlin, falls in love, and things all fall apart.

BREATHING UNDERWATER starts out with Nick appearing in court in answer to a restraining order that his once girlfriend, Caitlin McCourt, has taken out against him. The judge doesn't fall for Nick's innocent "who me?" act, and sentences him to stay away from Caitlin, both on school grounds and off; to enroll in a six month counseling class dealing with family violence and anger management; and to keep a journal, at least five hundred words per week, detailing what happened to end up where he is, and why.

A lot of the book is told through Nick's journal, and it's through the words he writes that we come to know how abuse is a cycle--and how, many times, the abuser doesn't even realize that he's become like the person he most hates. This is Nick's story, the dawning realization that everything he hates about his father is manifested in his treatment of Caitlin. How did a boy who supposedly has it all end up beating his girlfriend senseless in a parking lot? How can love be so mixed up with the need to control that it leaves you breathless and shaking, angry at the person you love the most?

Alex Flinn has written a very important story, that of family violence and the toll it takes on everyone involved. This is the kind of cycle that needs to be broken, before more young people like Nick repeat the only thing they know. A truly informative book, BREATHING UNDERWATER is not to be missed.
George_Counts More than 1 year ago
I rarely become emotionally attached to a novel while I'm reading it. I might feel a little sad if something tragic happens to one of the characters but more often then not I don't actually care either way. That totally changed when I read Breathing Underwater, the story of rich kid that verbally and physically abuses his girlfriend just so she won't leave him. I know it hurt my brain at first too but you'll understand when you read the book. The main character of the book is Nick Andreas, the rich and popular kid. He's cool, he's fly, and he can handle any situation with ease. But when his girlfriend, Caitlin, files a restraining order against him, not only does he have to avoid the girl he truly loves with all of his heart he also has to take a class on healthy relationships and write down everything that led to the incident in a journal and turn it in to the Judge. I love the characters, they don't seem like one dimensional high school students. They seem genuine. When something bad happens to someone you feel their pain, when someone is treating everybody like crap you want to beat them up. I also like how this author isn't afraid to go over the edge with content. There is teen drinking, references to sex, fake I.D's, underage partying, heavy profanity, and physical assault. All of these qualities add that extra touch of realism. Probably my favorite part about the novel is how the author plays with your emotions, not only do you feel bad about Caitlin when she is being treated horribly, you feel bad about Nick because you understand all of the inner demons he is facing. This book is incredible and a must read for anybody who loves Teen Fiction. George M. Counts gives this book a 9 outta 10.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Alex Flinn is an amazing author. She goes from fairy tales to a serious book like Breathing Underwater. This book is so touching and deep. I know that it will reach you in some way. Unlike the fairy tales, some people can relate and I think that is what makes the book.
-_-CR More than 1 year ago
Breathing Underwater was one of the top 3 best books I've read. It has a good story line and was very exciting at times. I would definetly recommend it to kids that in the 8th grade or higher. It sometimes got a little boring but overall it was a book that I would read more than once. It was a book that I always wanted to see what would happen next.
DaddyNeverHuggedMe More than 1 year ago
I think Breathing Underwater is an amazing book and if you are a teen it is a great read and will instantly draw you in. If not in high school I would still recommend reading this book cause it gives a great insight to teen thinking. It goes between the main character writing in his journal about the past with his girlfriend and the present about his problems with his old friends and going back to high school. It's a very satisfying experience as you watch grow into himself realize that he was wrong. Other than just writing in his journal he also must attended anger management sessions. This is where you get to see into the heart of the main characters problems and see how he deals with people that he considers lower than himself.
captainclitori More than 1 year ago
Breathing Underwater You want to be angry while reading, you wanna have thoughts you never thought you would. Do you want to read a book that just makes you so emotional that you wanna cry but then also wanna rage against the machine. If you are any of those things above then read the book Breathing Underwater this book takes a deep look at the troubling world of a teenager who got into and tidbit of trouble with the law and all of his peers. You are lead through his transition of realizing how actually was to what he thought he was. So if you want to feel emotions while enjoying a good book this is for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I believe that every high school studdent in the country should have to read this book. It opens their eyes and shows them that its not the qorst thing in the world when your cell phone gets taken away. They need to realize some peoples lives are actually like this
m_lovelylife More than 1 year ago
Breathing Underwater, an emotional ride. Alex Finn has mastered the art of writing this novel and filling it with emotion that the main character Nick carries on his journey to self realization. The first person point of view captures the reader and teaches lessons of life.
Larry99 More than 1 year ago
How does a rich kid deal with issues of abandonment, isolation, and abuse? Just like a poor kid: He becomes insecure and abusive in his relationships. How does a suddenly popular high school girl deal with being abused? Not well. Breathing Underwater is written for teens as a dramatic story about a high school student and his abusive relationship with his girlfriend. However, the realism of the writing and the realism of the protagonist's story tell the kids about what it is like to be in an abusive relationship and what can result from it. In the classroom, it is an excellent starting point for a more detailed study of abusive relationships. The varieties of relationships, where they start, and the painful similarities of abusive relationships are all discussed in the story and provide excellent subjects for the further discussion of this all too common issue.
m-stagen More than 1 year ago
My class was assigned Breathing Underwater to read, and I actually found it to be an interesting read. It's about a young teenager named Nick who loses friends and their trust after they find him beating his girlfriend. He is court ordered to write a journal telling everything that happened between him and his now ex-girlfriend, Cat from the beginning to the end, to help him reflect on what he has done. Up until the beating he gave Cat, he didn't really have any idea how abusive he was, the majority of it being verbal abuse. The story has a real life feel to it, leaving off the corny movie ending and using one that would most certainly happen to someone in his shoes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Breathing underwater was in my opinion a very good book. I really enjoyed the style of writing he used write. Alex Flinn added in some journal entries into the book. I think that doing this added a lot of character into the book. Alex Flinn also wrote Fade To Black, Nothing To Lose, Breaking Point, Beastly and Diva. You were able to see what the main character was feeling and why he did what he did. In overall I felt that this was a really awesome book. I would prefer Breathing Underwater to anyone who likes conflict and drama. The only thing I didn't really like about Breathing Underwater is that you don't know much other than the information about the characters given. Maybe if there were more to the setting it would be a bit more eventful. Other than that this book is on my top ten list.
Ashlem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book.
HollyRae on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It really was written very well. I would definitely recommend reading this.
sshadoan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Emotional, powerful, at times terrifying. Interesting perspective: abuse from an abuser's standpoint.
ABookVacation on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good book for young adults who are in the dating scene. Young people, especially females, need to know that abuse takes many different forms, and they need to take care of themselves above all else. Wish I had read this when I was younger. Could have saved me two years in an abusive relationship.
clif_hiker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My introduction to Alex Flinn, who, as it turns out is a female author. I was halfway through this book (hardback library copy) when I opened the back cover to find information about the author... and discovered that it was a woman. Since the story itself is about an angry young man, and since I was seeing a lot of myself in the protagonist... unsurprisingly (but surprising me with its intensity) I became angry. "How dare a woman try to write about and understand how an angry young man feels" ...Nonsense of course and I found that I learned some things about myself from the experience. Nice. The book itself is strictly YA and not terrifically original, however Ms. Flinn, much like another favorite of mine, Chris Crutcher, is able to capture teenage angst and emotion in her images and dialogue.
KarriesKorner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Caitlin's relationship with her boyfriend, Nick, takes a terrible turn violent one night when he slaps her. While they both want to believe that it was an isolated event, the abuse continues until Caitlin's parents take out a restraining order against Nick. Nick's journey into counseling and group therapy is painful and frustrating at times because he does not believe he has a problem with his anger. As Nick explores the darker side of his nature he discovers the root of his anger and what he must do to control it. When this book first came out it was cutting edge. It was a topic that was not discussed in young adult books. Recently authors have taken on the task of bringing this problem to the forefront of teen literature. Recently Janet Tashjian's recent book Fault Line, the subject of teen domestic violence really brings home that the teens of today are not immune from this horrendous problem.
chairshotxl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The second best YA novel on dating violence (joke)
ERMSMediaCenter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sent to counseling for hitting his firlfriend, Caitlin, and ordered to keep a journal, sixteen-year-old Nick recounts his relationship with Caitlin, examies his controlling behavior and anger, and describes living with his abusive father.
4sarad on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought it was interesting to get into the mind of an abusive boyfriend to see what he was thinking and what caused the seemingly senseless anger. While the book was interesting and the character grew and learned from his mistakes, I just wasn't drawn into the characters enough to truly CARE or to truly feel anything from the book.
anniecase on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really, really enjoyed this book. Not only was it easy to read and hard to put down, but the issues were perfectly expressed. You found yourself hating and sympathizing with the protagonist. It raises some great questions and it feels real, never forced or cheesy. A great teen book.
meggyweg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I like this book a lot less now than when I first read it. When I first read it, at the age of sixteen or so, I found it excellent and unique. However, having read more about battered women and batterers and the way the "system" treats them (The Stalking of Kristin is a good nonfiction treatment of the subject) I know that group therapy for batterers does not work out so wonderfully as Alex Flinn shows in this book. At the end of this book, Nick is practically cured and so are the other people in his group. But it usually doesn't work that way in real life. I've felt disillusioned towards this book since I found that out.
habeiam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book and loved it. I couldn't put it down. The topic is definitely one that is more mature as it deals with a teenager who is going through court required anger management due to the restraining order that was awarded to his girlfriend.
Heather19 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
very well-written book about a teenager who realizes he has his father's violent nature, and tries to curb that nature by attending group classes and keeping a journal.
kpickett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nick has been sentence to an anger managment class because he hit his girlfriend. As Nick fights against this class and Caitlyn he beings to see their relationship for what it really was, and see himself for who he really is. A great book for reluctant reader, it is short and fast paced with interesting topics like relationship abuse, alcoholism and anger management.