The First Time She Drowned

The First Time She Drowned

by Kerry Kletter


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399171031
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/15/2016
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 674,697
Product dimensions: 8.40(w) x 5.50(h) x 1.40(d)
Lexile: 830L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Kerry Kletter has had a lifelong passion for story. She holds a degree in literature and has an extensive background in theater, having appeared in film, television, and onstage. When not writing, Kerry can be found surfing, running, working with animals, or singing loudly in her car while stuck in LA traffic. A native of Ridgewood, New Jersey, Kerry now lives in Santa Monica, California, with her partner, screenwriter David Zorn. The First Time She Drowned is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter @kkletter.

Read an Excerpt

My mother wore the sun like a hat. It followed her as we did, stopping when she stopped, moving when she moved. She carried her beauty with the naiveté of someone who was born to it and thus never understood its value or the poverty of ugliness.
As children, my older brother Matthew and I were drawn to her like tides, always reaching our arms up to her, pulled to her light. If she had shadows, I did not recognize them as such. I saw her only in her most perfect form and any suggestion of coldness or unkindness was merely a reflection of me. This was the unspoken agreement I had with her, suspiciously drawn up before I was old enough to understand its cost.
Until I was a teenager, my family lived on the poor side of a wealthy town in Pennsylvania. It was a washed-out looking neighborhood where the colors of the houses were tired and peeling from neglect. Still, we had a huge backyard that stretched wide and ripe with all things wonderful to children. On its left seam it was lined with blackberry bushes whose purple juices stained our fingers as we stuffed them into jars for jam. On the right and perched tenuously on a hill as if cresting a wave of green, sat an enormous yellow boat, so old and weathered it had undoubtedly crawled its way to the shores of our yard to die. The boat was as big as our house and about as seaworthy. When I once asked my mother why we bothered to keep it, she looked not at the boat but at my father who was tooling uselessly about its deck.
“It’s a fixer upper for sure,” she’d said. “But maybe there’s something we can salvage.” She didn’t sound very convincing.
If nothing else, the boat was the perfect venue for playing pirates. Every weekend, Matthew, who loved to wield his authority in being three years older, played the role of the good captain while I, in a flash of prescience, was relegated to the part of the doomed and hated buccaneer. He would order me to move here and there, serving as both actor and director of our little scenes, and I would follow his instructions dutifully because Matthew was always better at pretending than I was.
Meanwhile, my father cleaned and fussed with the old boat, muttering and sighing as if his repetitive efforts might someday induce its spirit back to life. My brother and I would race wildly around him, as heedless of his frustrated cursing—the background noise of our childhood—as he was to our presence. For it was not for him that we played and scrambled about, maybe not even always for ourselves, but for her, the one who wore the sun like a hat, who was the sun to us. Because she mattered more. And because I sensed on some subterranean level that she needed us to, sensed that if we did not play the role of happy children, she might break like the Atlantic upon us.
Yet, for all my efforts, there were moments when I would catch my mother looking at that broken boat with the strange and startled horror of the drowning. This frightened me, and always I looked to Matthew to see if he too noticed the seas rising behind my mother’s eyes. He did not. Or if he did, he did not acknowledge it. But I saw too much. And I was never as good at pretending as Matthew was.

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The First Time She Drowned 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't describe many books as 'beautiful' but that's exactly what this book is. The story is both tragic and strong, and the writing as flat out lyrical. I'm struggling to write more, because I don't think I have the words to do this book justice. Just read it.
Katie_breathofbooks More than 1 year ago
This was a powerful and dark book that wasn't necessarily an easy read, but was definitely a very good read. It dealt with familial relationships and about learning to navigate the world again after being put into a mental institution by your own family when they don't really have your best interests in mine. The story of Cassie's family was a sad and painful one. Cassie's mom was abusive to her, not physically, but verbally. She made Cassie feel like she wasn't worth anything while she doted on and acted like best friends with Cassie's older brother, Matthew. Matthew seemed like a good brother to Cassie when he was younger, but he was turned against her by their mom and was always on the mom's side. Cassie's dad wasn't a bad guy. He wasn't able to protect her from her mother, since everyone in the family just kind of walked all over him. The extended family was bad too. Cassie's mom had her mother who was also awful to her daughter. That's probably part of why Cassie's mom became the way she was, but it doesn't excuse that. Then Cassie's mom was good friends with her aunt, who was Cassie's Great Aunt Dora. She never seemed to like Cassie when she came to visit, and there might have been something that she did to Cassie, a memory that she had managed to suppress for many years. When Cassie leaves the mental institution that her parents put her in, she goes to college. Her college experience doesn't start off too well, thanks to a near drowning incident and a sickness that happened after that. She meets Zoey who lives across the hall from her and moves in with her. I thought Zoey was a good friend that she really needed. She was able to learn how to have fun and be herself again with Zoey. I also thought her developing relationship with Chris was a good one. I liked how he was patient with her and stuck around, even when it seemed like she was pushing him away. But he also wasn't pushy and trying to force her to be around him. If you like YA contemporary, read this book.
SMParker More than 1 year ago
If I'm being totally honest, my words here could never do justice to this extraordinary debut novel. Every sentence was a gift. Kletter’s rich literary style instantly made her one of my favorite authors. Her sentences are poetry, layered and thick with meaning. Each one crafted with humanity and grace. And behind this lushness of language beats a story so simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful that my chest felt locked as I read. I yearned for Cassie to find peace. I ached for the people around her to honor the love that Cassie so desperately wanted to release into the world. I wanted to know Cassie. Soothe her. Apologize for all the ways love can go wrong, turn cold. Tell her it was never her fault. This is how alive, how beautifully dimensional Kletter creates her characters. The First Time She Drowned will sit on my shelf, calling to me with its unique language and singular beauty for years to come. And I will open its pages often just to indulge in the way Kletter’s language bends me to experience the familiar in a new and spectacular way. Also, I will recommend this book to every girl I know. And every mother. Because this is a story of—and a story for—mothers and daughters, and the ropes that bind and twist and sometimes strangle within this most important of relationships. Like sea glass, Kerry Kletter’s story plants hope that even the sharpest of edges can be polished smooth after a lifetime of churning at the mercy of a tumultuous sea.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kerry Kletter's story explores the damage when the primal need for maternal love goes unfulfilled and the dysfunctional pattern such damage can create. Yet it is also a story of hope, of facing the honest and rawest truths about ourselves and family and making the choices necessary for survival. My favorite part about the story was the surprising network of support that evolved to help main character Cassie in her struggle. What sets this novel apart is the magnificent writing. Kletter is an artist, crafting sentences so lovely that I had to stop often and reread them. She is a master at dissecting the emotion of a scene, layer by layer, so we get to its beating heart. Reading this book is a visceral process - gripping, powerful, disturbing and ultimately empowering. DO NOT MISS THIS BOOK. It is a story that will stick with you. Highly, highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful and sad and real. I related so much to the MC.
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
This novel wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be. It seemed like such a huge novel for the one strong message that I received from it but I enjoyed it. I thought Cass put up with a lot of crap growing up and although her mother washed her hands of her, I don’t want to say that was a good thing but I would hate to think what might have happened had she not. I hate to play the “what if” game and especially in these circumstances but as Cass was flashing back to her childhood, had her mother kept her under her wings what might have happened to Cass? I can only hope that Cass might have ran away and she would have lived happily ever after but who knows, all I know is what is printed in front of me in this novel. Cass’ life sucked all around, plainly putting it, right out there for you. Later in life, it starts to turn around and Cass finds her voice. We find Cass in a mental institution where her mother signed her in. Cass thought at first that her parents would be back shortly but it’s been 2.5 years and she’s finally turned eighteen and ready to sign herself out. She will miss James and I will miss him too, as his humor inside the walls of this psychiatric hospital made the days go faster. His responses in group therapy had me laughing as he told about being raised as a blueberry by carrot-colored midgets or the time that he constantly was teased because he had a brightly colored red nose. This is definitely the type of individual that I would want to know inside a mental institution. They will be together again, James tells her as he plans on meeting her outside the institution walls someday. Outside on her own, it’s the freedom Cass has always wanted but the freedom that she has never experienced and doesn’t know how to handle. Cass’ mom now has suddenly taken an interest in her life since she is released and has her admitted to her alma mater. Why this sudden interest? Cass makes her way to college, alone and with no support system. This is a dangerous situation yet Cass tries the best that she can. There are successes and there are failures for her but not the ones that typically come with the first weeks of college. If only I could reach inside the book and offer a helping hand, some words of wisdom or phone someone for her but I am helpless. Cass drowns but she surfaces to face another day and again, I want so badly to help her as she struggles in her new life. Then she finds Zoey, I thought at first wow, of all people she meets and she meets Zoey. But there is something about Zoey, she’s real, she creates these moments that I wanted to scream “yes! That it!” At first Cass doesn’t know what to think about Zoey and I am glad she felt the same way I did, but later she gave Zoey a chance. Between the moments that Cass is at college and the moments she is flashing back to her childhood, I see the big picture. She is a product, a product of her upbringing. We all are but Cass finally sees it and she’s ready for the next step. I really enjoyed the ending and I won’t spoil it but telling you why but I feel that some readers might not enjoy it.
QualityFangirls More than 1 year ago
The First Time She Drowned is a book I think I needed a couple of years ago. Kerry said in a panel during NYCTAF this year that people always said that mothers always love their children, and that wasn't her experience. That wasn't my experience too, and so this is one of the first books I've read that really got that message across. With the incorporation of trying to protect one self by shutting everyone out, which doesn't always work out, Kerry has put together a story that hit pretty close to home. It is something I have already come to terms with, but it is definitely something that would have helped a younger me understand herself, and the world, a little better.
KidlitFan2016 More than 1 year ago
Dazzling writing, compelling main character, heart-wrenching story!
MarisaR More than 1 year ago
From the gorgeous opening lines of THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED, I knew I was in good hands with Kerry Kletter. She is a beautiful writer and an inspiring storyteller. The core of the story is the complicated mother/daughter relationship between the main character, Cassie, and her mother. It is handled deftly and the honesty of it is deep and dark but rimmed with hope. My love for Cassie combined with Kletter's lyrical magic make this a book not to miss. It's a stunning debut with huge crossover appeal that will mean so much to so many. I can’t wait to see what Kerry Kletter does next.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED is easily one of the most powerful and poignant books I've ever read on dysfunctional families and toxic relationships--heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. Told through the gorgeous, haunting voice of Cassie O'Malley, Kerry Kletter has written a deeply moving, painfully honest, and achingly beautiful story of love, loss, survival, and healing. No words that I write could ever do this book justice--it is one that is packed with such truth and raw emotion it simply must be experienced firsthand. THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED is an absolutely stunning debut that will stay with me. Forever. No question about it. Kerry Kletter is a force. Her talent is rare and immense--if this is what she is capable of in a debut novel, I cannot wait to see what she will do next!
QuinnenDonnelly More than 1 year ago
Kletter's debut will suck you in with the strongest of rip tides. Her writing is evocative, fluid, and, okay, enviable (that's the writer in me!). But what sucked me in even more than that was the power of this story. Cassie O'Malley seems to be getting a second chance at life. After two and a half years in a mental institution, she's eighteen and in control of her destiny. Or so she thinks. She elects to leave for college; her mother -- in this case her savior, but for so many years, her tormentor -- has offered to foot the bill and even gets her a seat in her alma mater. Her mother is states away from the college, but her specter hovers over Cassie, who struggles in the adjustment to life outside of the mental institution. When her roommate, and later, her crush/potential boyfriend call her "crazy," she's tempted to believe them. The heart of this story lies far beneath the surface. It's much less about college and much more about Cassie finally working through her past, including a memory she's buried so deep it's taken a dozen years to surface. Readers drawn to family dramas -- as I am -- will be completely captivated by this story. Kletter is brilliant at delivering a scene with a powerful punch. She's created several moments that I know will linger with me long after I've finished this book. The amount of backstory covered in this book might weigh other books down, but here, information is revealed so carefully, with flashbacks so skillfully placed, that you never question its inclusion. An emotional reading experience about the power of memory, the relentless tug of family, and how we forge lives independent of our pasts.
book_junkee More than 1 year ago
This started out really strong for me and then I don't know what happened. I like Cassie well enough. Her story is a rough one and it's obvious that she doesn't know how to interact with people properly. There are some interesting secondary characters {namely BFF Zoey} and just don't get me started on her mother. The prose is gorgeous. It's lyrical and flows like the ocean Cassie constantly talks about. The chapters alternate between past and present and it's a clever way to get the whole story and still keep the secret until the reveal. And honestly, I think it was the secret that took some of the shine away. I had figured it out pretty early on and that's where I started to lose my enthusiasm. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the book. I just didn't care for a certain plot point. If I would have known it was central to the storyline, I wouldn't have picked it up.
Lisa-LostInLiterature More than 1 year ago
3.5 stars! I was completely clueless going into The First Time She Drowned on what to expect. I hadn’t read the synopsis in a very long time, and had no idea what the story was about. But with a cover like that, I HAD to at least give it a try. After a few different bloggy friends told me they had enjoyed it, I decided it was definitely worth the read. I loved the creepy, what-is-going-on feel of this story. I was so eager to find out why Cassie was in the mental institution, and even more eager to see how life would be after she was released when she turned 18. This story was told through alternating past and present chapters, which kept the story flowing beautifully, and kept me wanting more. Some of the characters were a bit tough to handle, causing my anger to skyrocket at different times, but it was part of the story so I understand why they were the way they were. Still frustrating, though. Overall, I think this was a solid story with a gorgeous writing style. I loved the flow of Kerry Kletter’s words and how effortlessly the story seemed to come together. I also really enjoyed the atmosphere of the story, and the overall prose was beautiful. My only issues came from the characters themselves, and a bit of the content. I won’t go into that too much because of spoilers, but I tend to shy away from stories that involve certain things, and this is one of those instances. Not withstanding, this is a solid read that is sure to please the YA reader, especially those interested in books involving mental illnesses. Another great diverse book to add to our list! (Thanks to Listening Library for the review copy!)