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Cassie O’Malley has been trying to keep her head above water—literally and metaphorically—since birth. It’s been two and a half years since Cassie’s mother dumped her in a mental institution against her will, and now, at eighteen, Cassie is finally able to reclaim her life and enter the world on her own terms.

But freedom is a poor match against a lifetime of psychological damage. As Cassie plumbs the depths of her new surroundings, the startling truths she uncovers about her own family narrative make it impossible to cut the tethers of a tumultuous past. And when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is real? And more important, whose life must she save?

A bold, literary story about the fragile complexities of mothers and daughters and learning to love oneself, The First Time She Drowned reminds us that we must dive deep into our pasts if we are ever to move forward.


Rating: 5/5

It was when I discovered that there are two kinds of death. There is ceasing to exist, usually accompanied by a funeral and loved ones in mourning. And then there is emotional death born out of necessity and measured solely by the absence of grief it causes: the turning off the lights of oneself in order to shut down the feelings of being alive.

This book HURT. It hurt me so bad, because I have felt all the things she felt in the story. I actually finished it January, but now, in late JULY, I still remember how I felt while reading the book. I am still left absolutely speechless by the sheer force of the book. The author depicts the MC’s struggle to stay alive so perfectly, and while our experiences differ, I can empathize with what she is feeling. I still feel like that sometimes, and the author describes those feelings much more eloquently than I ever could.

“Were you a good girl for Dora?” she asked.

I nodded yes, but the sadness found its edges and gathered into the shape of arms that groped desperately inside my chest, reaching as if through prison bars, unable to break free. I felt there was something I wanted to tell my mother, but I couldn’t remember what it was.

“Your daughter is such a good girl!” is what my relatives used to always tell my parents when I was young. Over time, it just became an expectation of me – that I’ll be the one whom my parents never had to worry about. And so, the fake smiles, laughs and cheeriness began. Yes, I’m a good girl, but sadness and tears will always be hidden underneath it all.

I spend the next hour in a dirty gas station bathroom changing out of my clothes, blow-drying my wet hair with the hand dryer, reapplying my makeup – trying to make myself perfect so no one will be able to guess what’s underneath, see the girl who can’t stay afloat.

I arm myself differently, through clothes and masks, but the feeling is the same. We are both struggling to stay afloat.

I love this book. It will be difficult for some to read, but I highly encourage you to be swept up by the emotional roller coaster that this is.