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-can’t-do wrong favorite. To their mother, they are a normal, happy family. And then there are the roles we give ourselves. 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. To Clare, they are a family on the verge of disaster.
Clare has long refused to believe her brother is truly bad...he dotes her, doesn't he? But as Clare starts piecing together the truth about her brother's stints in jail, it starts changing the way she thinks about him. It has also changes the way the community views the family. The only thing it hasn’t changed is the way their mother feels about Luke. Each time she welcomes him home with open arms and brushes off his crimes as “wrong place and wrong time,” Clare can feel a little piece of her happy home life being taken away. And when her mother does the unthinkable—takes Clare’s hard-earned college savings to post bail for Luke's latest transgression—Clare has to decide if sticking up for herself and her future means selfishly turning her back on family…or if it's the only way to keep herself from drowning along with them.
Debut novelist Anna Shinoda’s raw, gritty, powerful novel cuts right to the bone and brings to life the skeletons the lurk in the closet.
About the Author
Anna Shinoda grew up in a town so small it lacked a stoplight. She graduated with a degree in Communication Studies from Long Beach State University and continued to develop her writing at UCLA Extension. Anna is married to musician Mike Shinoda, one of the original members of Linkin Park. This is her debut novel.
Read an Excerpt
Learning Not to Drown
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
Learning Not to Drown, I think, is more personal to the author than one might think. The book is an emotional roller-coaster of truth. Clare, the main character is torn by obligation to family, fear of the unknown and wanting to escape some of the dark corners of family. You will be emotionally attached to Clare and want her to be well, to do well . Each child in the book is different, yet flawed, even Clare, but you will feel what she is going through and you will demand that she be able to break free and be her own person. Reading Learning Not to Drown, for me, validated so many feelings many of us have about family and secrets that can be hard to bear. I simply loved this book and I can't wait for Ms. Shinoda's next work. It is a hidden gem and a must read.
I enjoyed this book very much.
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.