Monday, October 12, 2015

Book Review: UNDERWATER by Marisa Reichardt

Title: Underwater
Author: Marisa Reichardt
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 288 pages
Publication date: January 12, 2016
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

My Rating: 5 / 5

Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive—first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then, herself.

But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school.

When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside.

Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.

I talk about voice a lot. I tell students and aspiring writers that making theirs unique and personal to them is absolutely essential. I tell myself that I have to keep pushing to improve the one I've already developed in my own stories.

Because's the blanket we build that the reader wraps themselves in while they read our work. 

The voice can be warm and fuzzy.

It can be heavy and soft.

It can be prickly and slightly itchy.

It can be a million different sensations.

One thing I've never even considered, though, is how it can completely change within a story.

Marisa Reichardt's Underwater does just that. She introduces us to Morgan, a teenager under a self-imposed house arrest. We don't know exactly why Morgan won't go outside. We catch glimpses of the events that led her to be so scared of the world beyond the threshold. She hints at it, comments on it, reminisces on the tragedy, and we feel every short breath, every skipped heartbeat, every bit of weight carried around by this girl. All because of the voice Reichardt wraps us in.

But then...

There's Evan. Morgan's mom. Morgan's brother. Her therapist. Her own desire to regain that connection with the life she's turned her back on. 

And the voice begins to change.

It's so subtle. So gradual and smooth that I didn't actually catch it at first. I was about three quarters through the book when I noticed that I could breathe easier. I was smiling. I wasn't gripping the edges of the book so hard that the cover was getting wrinkled. So I flipped back several chapters and realized that Reichardt had been weaving an entirely new blanket for me while I'd been reading. Everything from the descriptive language to the overall sentence structure had been evolving right under my nose without me knowing it.  

It's brilliant. And so perfect for this story. Because this story is all about change and moving on. We finally discover what's been keeping Morgan locked inside her house all this time. And while this story doesn't get wrapped up in a tidy, neat, bow in some Disney-esque ending, it does leave us with such a wonderful sense of hope.

This is a book I hope everyone reads at some point. For students and teachers, it's so relevant. To readers, it's rich with complexity. To writers, it's a study in how an author can create a character so compelling, so layered with emotion, one who changes so much within a story, that the voice has a complete arc of its own, too. And that's why I'm giving Underwater by Marisa Reichardt a full five stars. Her book not only was a heartbreaking read that left me smiling, it made me want to become a better writer.

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