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by Alex Flinn
Harpercollins Juvenile, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Mar 6th 2002

Breathing Underwater

This novel for young adults focuses on the issue of violence in relationships.  The basic idea is simple: 16-year old Nick has beaten his girlfriend Caitlin, and he has been sentenced by a court to six months of counseling classes on family violence and dealing with anger, and he also has to keep a journal of his thoughts during this time.  The judge also grants a restraining order so that he is no longer allowed to contact Caitlin.  At first Nick has no comprehension of why his behavior was wrong or what caused it, but through reflection and his developing relationships with the other men in the weekly class he attends, he gains insight and learns his lesson.  He also manages to turn around his troubled relationship with his violent father. 

The novel mixes together Nick’s narration of his current life, after the court appearance, with his “journal entries” reflecting on his relationship with Caitlin and the events that led up to his violence towards her.  It soon becomes clear how he was mimicking his father’s controlling attitude, how jealous he was, and how he became furious when Caitlin showed any indication of independent thought.  The novel also combines an understanding of Nick as perpetrator of violence with a sympathetic portrayal of him as a victim of his father’s pathology, and links the two together, while remaining clear that Nick is responsible for his action.

The book is well written and the story should be gripping.  One gets a good sense of Nick’s friendships with other boys, as well as some conveying a sense of why Caitlin’s low self-esteem might lead her to put up with Nick’s obnoxious attitudes towards her.  It’s hard to know how teens would react to this story, but it is at least conceivable that they might find it helpful if they have experienced similar issues in their own lives.  In the end, the book is optimistic about the chances of ending violent behavior, while at the same time making clear that if the perpetrators of violence refuse to come to grips with their problem, it can escalate to terrible proportions.

The audiobook is read well by Jon Cryer.  Sometimes the transitions between the different modes of story-telling (present vs. reflection on the past) are rather confusing: where the printed book uses different fonts, there’s no such guide for the listener.  But that’s not a major problem, and some may well find this an easier story to listen to than to read.

 

Link: RandomHouse Audio Page for Breathing Underwater.

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.