The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

9780399171031_d15f1

This is a heartbreaking, raw story of mental illness and how it can systematically unravel the bonds between a family. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story, but it was so much more than a young adult coming-of-age story. Of course, there is some young romance and dating involved, but poor Cassie was forced to grow up so early in her life, and was therefore wise beyond her years. For these reasons, the plot is more mature than some young adult novels, and adults would enjoy it as much as teens.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot because you will enjoy it much more learning the story as I did – in bits and pieces of Cassie’s past as she remembers them, discovering moments that have been hidden or repressed in her own memory.

Cassie was placed in a mental institution by her mother, out of the blue, and against her will at the age of 15. She spent two and a half years there, with no support from her family and most everyone believing that she was lying. Even the therapist assigned to her, Dr. Meeks, didn’t believe her or support her. When she turns 18, she emancipates herself and leaves the institution to attend college at her mother’s alma matter. Her only regret is leaving the only true friend she has ever had, James, behind at the institution. Readers get the truth behind why Cassie was at the institution in snippets and flashbacks of her life and tumultuous relationship with her mother. At times, it is hard to read, to imagine what Cassie went through all her life. Once I read the full story of what all happened to her, when she finally revealed it to Liz, near the end, tears streamed down my face.I felt so horrible for Cassie, yet so proud of her ability to carry on and try to find herself. This is a beautiful story, and a unique look at mental illness and perception. Not everything is as it seems.

I was intrigued by the title of this book, and after reading it, I couldn’t think of a more fitting title. Drowning doesn’t always have to be in the literal sense of drowning in water. Unfortunately, as young Cassie is well aware, she spent most of her life drowning.

This is a debut novel and it packs a huge emotional punch. I’ll not be forgetting Cassie or her story any time in the near future. I hope Kletter writes many more stories. I highly recommend this book, if for nothing else but a reminder to everyone to have compassion and empathy for others.

Fans of We Were Here, Everything, Everything, and All the Bright Places will surely enjoy this novel.

The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

It’s not the things we remember, it’s the things we keep.

The Things We Keep will be published on January 19, 2016. If I were you, I would make a New Year’s resolution now to read it in 2016. This is such a beautiful, heart-wrenching story of family, friendship, and love, despite the odds stacked against the characters.

There are two story lines to start, but they intersect once the characters meet and end up in the same place. First, we meet Anna Forster, a 38 year old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but in the early stages. Anna’s mother also suffered from Alzheimer’s. After Anna has endangered both herself and others she loves, she has decided to live at Rosalind House, a prestigious, family-like assisted living facility in New Jersey. She knows most of the residents are elderly, but she also knows there is young resident named Luke, her age, and also with Alzheimer’s disease. As she and Luke get to know each other, sometimes starting over with introductions every few days and then every day, near the end, their love grows, despite the research that those without memory and speech (in Luke’s case), suffering from such an awful disease are not capable of falling in love.

In comes Eve Bennett, a young, talented chef with a 7 year old daughter named Clementine, who is quite the spunky little charmer, despite losing her father and then her home a few months prior. The Bennett girls’ energy is a welcome change to the quiet environment at Rosalind House. Eve is the widow of Richard Bennett, the leader of a ponzi scheme which caused thousands of people to lose their money and would have landed him in prison, had he not taken his own life first. Now a single mother and with no income, Eve must find a way to support herself, which brings her to Rosalind house in the role of cook. As Eve crosses paths and gets to know the residents, especially Anna and Luke, she makes some decisions that will forever change all of their lives. There, she also meets Angus, the skilled gardener who is also easy on the eyes.

I love Eve and Clementine’s interactions with the residents of Rosalind House. The author does a wonderful job of describing them so that the reader feels they know them as well. Much of the scenes are written from Anna’s perspective, and in light of her failing memory. Though humorous at times as she tries to come up with a word or does silly things, it is also deeply tragic and sad that she is withering away at such a young age. This story, and it’s characters will be in my thoughts for a long time, as the story really reminded me to hold on to what we have, because we ultimately do not know when our last moment with a loved one will be. It is truly a lovely story, and I would highly recommend that you read it.