"I do online school now. Going to my other school got to be too hard. I can't control things out in the real world. Cars turn corners too fast. Doors slam. People appear out of nowhere. It's unpredictable."
As a note, an e-galley of this novel was sent to me via NetGalley by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not effect my opinions in any way.
Marisa Reichardt’s debut YA novel, Underwater, is breathtaking and heartfelt. More importantly, it is one of the most needed and beautiful releases slated for 2016. Underwater is the sort of book one must read to fully understand (or disagree) with any hype. On the subject of hype, I’m going to be sorely disappointed if there isn’t a ton surrounding this novel.
It’s that good.
In many ways, Underwater echoes the story that Jennifer Brown told in her novel “Hate List”; one survivor left behind with guilt after a school shooting, only ultimately the two stories are simply just similar in its structure. If you loved Hate List, you will likely love Underwater.
Both stories are incredibly emotional and raw experiences when reading. I feel haunted by Underwater even now after only so many pages. And honestly, Underwater feels far more important of a story to tell. It's not something that is all that common in YA books, too have this much heart and honesty. Reichardt tackles so much in so few pages that something about it rings so true and touches your heart in ways other novels fail.
(It goes without saying but due to its subject matter, this will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Trigger warnings for mental illness and memories of violence.)
Let’s back up to the main points in Marisa Reichardt’s plots, structure and characters. There’s so much that can be said in my review, however I don’t want to spoil much for readers. I have been trying to think up a way to describe Marisa’s prose, firstly.
Heartbreaking. Warm. Packed with emotion. Alive. Perfectly crafted.
There’s so much that can be added to that but what makes this story work on an emotional level is absolutely Marisa’s writing and the portrayal of our main characters struggles.
Underwater would not be half as good as it was if it was written by anyone else or focused on a character other than Morgan. We’ve seen so many novels or forms of entertainment tackling the issues she does in Underwater but this one? This character?
Wow. This one, this girl, guys.
Marisa, I applaud you. For you make this story come to life in all its tragedy, all its glory, everything. And then in its mistakes and its rights and its struggles and strides and flaws and the good.
There is nothing more to be said beyond she really and truly breathes life into her characters. It’s impossible not to feel for them. Not to feel for Morgan, who’s life was changed one October day; who fears the unexpectedness of life in the way that only someone who has witnessed something terrible can fear. Many classmates of hers died--though not anyone she was exceptionally close with--and it's just... Wow. What Morgan saw that day...
Well, you'll find out in detail when reading this one.
School shootings, struggling with grief and a weight of guilt. Our leading lady is a survivor in so many ways. But due to her experiences, she is unable to leave her home without feeling as though the world is caving in. It’s incredibly realistic and painful in showcasing the different ways a person can approach tragedy.
Because the honest truth is that not everyone can react to something the same way. Morgan’s biggest coping mechanism has been blaming herself for the events of that autumn. Pushing her friends away. Never leaving her apartment. Never letting anyone in, not truly, and carrying a devastating secret on her shoulders.
All throughout the novel we see her struggle. Realistically, Morgan could be anyone. She could be you, she could be me, she could be your best friend or sister. Morgan’s feelings shine through for our readers in an intimate way that makes us understand her. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking truth in the aftermath of tragedy.
She’s isolated herself in grief due to the idea that she could have done something more to help the outcome. Morgan, on one rainy day on her way to school, spots a classmate out in the rain and offers him a ride.
She could have never predicted what happened next. What he would do just a small fraction of time later.
And now, Morgan is left with the guilt of having picked him up that morning; about what would have happened if she hadn’t given him a ride to school?
Would things have been different? There’s a longing in that for Morgan. She wishes to believe it would be different. That if it hadn’t rained, she wouldn’t have picked him up as a good deed and he wouldn’t have killed anyone at their school. He would have been tardy and not arrived and perhaps talked himself out of it.
There are so many things she wants to ask this boy, this classmate she hardly knew, about the why’s.
Why he acted surprised that she’d be so nice to him. What she could have done to prevent his actions that soon followed. Why he told her to ditch first period before exiting her car. Morgan, looking back, realized there were so many warning signs in his appearance that morning and feels responsible on so many levels.
What happens inside the school is devastating and it will be something that haunts her for a long time. But Morgan wants to get better–she wants to live her life again. She has a therapist she talks to, who is wonderful and understands her more than anyone else could. Her mother and little brother support her.
And then, she meets a neighbor named Evan. Evan is cute and supportive of her, too. He only just moved to the area but had a cousin/his best friend who was killed at Morgan’s school on that fateful day. They relate to each other in some ways: the shooting that changed their lives forever (even if he hadn’t been present), their passion for the water (her, swim and him, surf) and the fact that they come from a divorced family.
He isn’t there as someone who “fixes” her, because ultimately she is the one who makes improvements to herself and starts to slowly live again, but he is an excellent guy to have around. I think he fits effortlessly with her and her family and it’s a good addition to her life because he lost someone that day and it’s a reminder, in a way.
They truly have a beautiful connection.
Morgan, in the days and weeks and months that have passed since the shooting, is able to start her road to recovery and to perhaps life again. It isn’t an easy path. It never will be. And Marisa doesn’t sugarcoat this and we leave on a happy note that isn’t all wrapped in bows.
It’s a promise to continue living. I love it. This is one of the most important young adult novels to hit shelves in recent times and needs to be on your shelf for 2016. Underwater is a can’t miss. Morgan faces her struggles in different ways and processes them in a way that makes her so real to us as readers.
Underwater mixes revelations, tragedy, love and family bonds realistically. Truly, it is a beautiful novel and I need a physical copy of it right. Not only does it capture the right idea when it comes to moving on and how long it can take us, it takes a topic that could be simply soap opera and spins it into an incredibly touching story of survival.
We see the news often: mass shootings at schools or workplaces or even a random location or two. It’s tragic and something that has a fall out no matter the location or circumstances. We see a lot of survivors with guilt but who are seemingly ready to move on and live life after a few breaths. And then there’s people like Morgan, who desperately need a voice.
Marisa Reichardt provides that voice with grace and struggles and promises. That’s what makes this story so important to us and what will ultimately cause an impact. I only wish we had more time with Morgan as she works back into life. I'm going to miss her voice but I will cherish this story for years to come.
One last note, I want you to keep in mind this quote from the novel when you read it:
Seriously. Keep that in mind when you think of Morgan's friends, of her mother, of her father who struggles and left them behind in many ways. It's such an important thought to consider when someone in this novel annoys you.