“To his friends, popular and handsome sixteen-year-old Nick Andreas has led a charmed life. But the guys in Nick’s anger management class know differently. So does his ex-girlfriend Caitlin. Now it looks like the only person who doesn’t realize just how far from perfect Nick’s life has become is Nick himself.”
I admit it. The main reason my interest was piqued by Breating Underwater was because it was written by Alex Flinn. Whose works I’ve seen so far have been retellings of fairy tales. So when a book of hers popped up that was not based on any fairy tale, I was hooked. It also helped that the blurb in the back cover was short and to the point–while being interesting enough that you’d want to see how the story unfolds.
Now, the book was a breeze to read. Alex Flinn clearly has a good hold on storytelling, as she weaves the story of our protagonist Nick Andreas. Except, while telling the story, our protagonist doesn’t seem very heroic at all. He’s not even anti-heroic. He doesn’t possess any qualities that would make a regular reader root for him. In fact, I found myself being annoyed at Nick’s apparent disregard for the obvious most of the time. But the thing is, and this is just my opinion, this annoyance to Nick’s denial/delusions is the perfect companion to how the story unfolds.
To understand Nick, we have to get to know him. So let’s start with a backgrounder: Nick is a popular guy in school. That is, until a certain altercation between him and his girlfriend sent him to court–and saddled him with a restraining order. According to everyone, Nick has a temper and hits girls. But Nick denies these allegations. When he gets sent to an anger management class, Nick is forced to write a journal about his relationship with his now ex-girlfriend, and the event that sent them to fight each other in court.
And it is near the beginning of the story where we get two separate points-of-view of what happened–from the same person. As Nick tells the story in real-time, we are told that he is innocent. That he loves Caitlin dearly. And that he is only going to the anger management classes to do everything in his power to win her back. But when he starts writing about his relationship with Caitlin on his journal, Nick tells a different version of the events. A version in which the allegations against him seem to be true. And yet, Nick can’t seem to marry the two perspectives together.
Alex Flinn has done a great job at dealing with the issue of anger management with the juxtaposition of the events as Nick sees it–and as he remembers it. But what, I think, made the whole thing work was the fact that Nick absolutely refuses to accept his actions as wrong–until he was put in the position where he had to bear witness to the actions he was guilty of. My only concern with regards to this is that Nick’s turnaround seemed instantaneous. Of course, days, weeks and months pass in between events. But because the author chose not to mention the passage of time beyond the date that starts each chapter, it does seem disconcerting that Nick would go from being a jerk to being a self-aware jerk in between two chapters. I had to do a double take on the dates to see that Nick does seem to have processed his wrongdoings and is sincerely trying to correct it.
More than the story of Nick’s anger management issue though, is the underlying story about friendship. About how much is too much when sharing secrets. And about the question of a friendship’s validity–when you don’t trust them enough with your secrets.
Breathing Underwater is a great work of fiction. It’s also a great conversation piece between friends–and even between students and their counselors. I loved how Alex Flinn gave character to the adults in the story: none of them are plain paragons or villains; all of them have different facets–and all of them are flawed.