Book Review: ‘The Girl who Could Breathe Under Water’ by Erin Bartels
Following her bestselling debut novel, Kendra Brennan, is in a writing slump. She puts it down to the receipt of an inflammatory note from “A Very Disappointed Reader”. Believing she had a hunch to the identity of the note writer, Kendra decides to return to her old holiday cabin on the lake. She now owns it having inherited it from her loving grandfather who had recently passed away.
The story starts with Kendra ‘thinking’ in the second person to her old best friend, Cami, who she spent many wonderful summers as teenagers. However, they haven’t seen each other since the last time Kendra visited the lake, eight years ago. It was an unusual method of sharing the story but I found it tremendous and worked relatively seamlessly when Kendra jumped into 1st person POV.
I was quickly engrossed by Kendra’s recollections of her past summers and her relationships with the Rainier family: father Robert, mother Beth, and adopted children: Cami and Tyler. ‘That Summer’, her breakout smash debut story included many fictionalised elements of these summers on the lake. All the Rainiers, bar Cami, have returned for the summer. Kendra realises she must confront each of them to ascertain which one of them may be the “Disappointed Reader.”
Kendra’s on a tight deadline for her second novel and as she endeavours to start it along comes a stranger, Andreas, who has arrived announced to translate her debut into German. They soon develop a friendship as well as a professional connection.
This is an emotionally gripping story as Kendra confronts people and issues in her past that are terribly challenging. She discovers much about each one of her relationships with the Rainier family. Some of them indeed are quite a shock. But it’s what Kendra discovers about herself which I found most stirring. Self-absorption is one of our great struggles as humans and it’s in both returning to her past and drafting her second story that Kendra is able to self-discover much about herself. Further, the notion of stepping into another’s shoes before casting judgement or criticism is another valuable insight for Kendra.
Kendra’s fortunate to have a supportive ally in Andreas who demonstrates so many positive attributes in his gentleness and kindness while a certain naivety in the romance department.
It’s a powerful story that was so pleasurable to read as Bartels deals with some tremendously important personal matters which many of us can all relate to.
Bartels characters are very beautifully crafted humans, no cardboard cutouts here. Robert and Beth’s marriage, Tyler’s struggles as a child, Kendra and Cami’s friendship, Andreas’ passion for stories and willingness to listen to someone tell theirs, are all wonderfully brought to the stage.
I loved this story for its intricacy, powerful themes, wonderful writing which kept us guessing and the cast of characters.
I fell very blessed to have received an early ebook copy of the story from Revell as party of their Readers Program via NetGalley. This has no influence over my review.