Girl Underwater by Claire Kells

Girl Underwater by Claire Kells
Publisher: Penguin/Dutton
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (300 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

Nineteen-year-old Avery Delacorte loves the water. Growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts, she took swim lessons at her community pool and captained the local team; in high school, she raced across bays and sprawling North American lakes. Now a sophomore on her university’s nationally ranked team, she struggles under the weight of new expectations but life is otherwise pretty good. Perfect, really.

That all changes when Avery’s red-eye home for Thanksgiving makes a ditch landing in a mountain lake in the Colorado Rockies. She is one of only five survivors, which includes three little boys and Colin Shea, who happens to be her teammate. Colin is also the only person in Avery’s college life who challenged her to swim her own events, to be her own person—something she refused to do. Instead she’s avoided him since the first day of freshman year. But now, faced with sub-zero temperatures, minimal supplies, and the dangers of a forbidding nowhere, Avery and Colin must rely on each other in ways they never could’ve imagined.

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Girl Underwater is a suspenseful mix of the struggle to survive and the gentle, but strong emotions that can only develop in the most extreme situations.

The switching back and forth between the days after the plane crash and Avery’s present day effort to cope with the psychological consequences of the trauma propels the story forward. The reader keeps guessing about what will happen next or what exactly happened in those five days of terror that affected Avery so much that she still can’t let go.

This story is much more than just a romance. It’s a novel about growing up, about coming to terms with a horrific event and with life in general. It’s also a story populated with strong characters that are likeable and realistic and that we care for since the very beginning. Despite the focus being on Avery and her struggle, first to survive, and later with PTSD, the author also managed to write very detailed scenes in the wilderness of the Rockies that evoked the desperation of the five survivors. Those chapters were filled with tension, but also with hope and warmth because of the genuine relationships that developed between Avery, the boys and Colin.

A little less convincing were Avery’s reasons for avoiding Colin at the beginning of the story and I kept waiting to read a deeper, more unpleasant reason behind it, but apart from that first meeting of theirs, nothing else was offered as an explanation. Similarly, the ending felt a bit disjointed. Towards the end, Avery changed her mind about how she felt a few too many times, so the epilogue came a bit out of the blue, although it offered a satisfying ending after the harrowing tale.

The descriptions of Avery’s PTSD were very vivid and I could feel her struggle throughout the novel. It made me really feel for her. I admired her strength, but also her parents for raising her to be the independent, strong woman that she was. The family scenes, both Avery’s and Colin’s, were very precious and infused the novel with a feeling of hope.

Girl Underwater is a gripping tale of survival, growing up, friendship and the most epic sort of love. You just have to dive in and let it knock the air out of you by its intensity and optimism.

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