Learning Not To Drown By Anna Shinoda

I received this galley in consideration for an honest review.

Learning Not To Drown By Anna ShinodaLearning Not To Drown by Anna Shinoda
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 1, 2014
Genres: Young Adult

There is a pecking order to every family. Seventeen-year old Clare is the overprotected baby; Peter is the typical, rebellious middle child; and Luke is the oldest, the can’t-do-wrong favorite. To their mother, they are a normal, happy family. To Clare, they are a family on the verge of disaster. Clare: the ambitious striver; Peter: the angry ticking time bomb; and Luke: a drug-addicted convicted felon who has been in and out of jail for as long as Clare can remember—and who has always been bailed out by their parents. Clare loves Luke, but life as his sister hasn’t been easy. And when he comes home (again), she wants to believe this time will be different (again). Yet when the truths behind his arrests begin to surface, everything Clare knows is shaken to its core. And then Luke is arrested. Again. Except this time is different, because Clare’s mom does the unthinkable on Luke’s behalf, and Clare has to decide whether turning her back on family is a selfish act…or the only way to keep from drowning along with them.

Learning Not To Drown might look like a typical YA issue book at first glance, but what I found was a story that drew me into its sad and dysfunctional world.  Clare’s life is made up of parents that vacillate between being totally checked out when it comes to her emotional needs and overbearing when she needs normal, teenage boundaries.  Instead, they treat her as if she is going to commit the next Big Crime and I really felt for her desire to be perfect and her failure to  please parents who didn’t really see her as a person.  Her brother, Peter, is a powder keg of anger, which Claire doesn’t really understand.  Her broken memories of an oldest brother that she loves are in direct conflict with the way everyone else sees him.  The center of the family dysfunction is, of course, the eldest brother, Luke.  Through Clare’s fractured memories, we learn about Luke’s run-ins with the law.  Heartbreakingly, we also see the way his addictions and crimes have colored Clare’s life, including her relationships with her family and friends.  The eyes of the small town follow Clare wherever she goes and she feels their judgement and censure.

I think what really fascinated me about this book was that the point of view of the perpetrator’s family is not one that is often explored.  There are plenty of books about the victims and their families, but very few about the people surrounding the person who commits the crime.  Make no mistake, Luke’s crimes, when they are finally revealed, are horrible, but I also found Clare’s perspective to be very humanizing.  No matter how horrible the criminal, they came from somewhere; they have families, parents, and siblings.  The book did an excellent job of showing that Clare and Peter are victims, as well.  Clare and Peter essentially grew up in a home that was both emotionally and sometimes physically abusive.  I loved the way the author wrote Clare’s struggle to reconcile a brother and a criminal, something which became more difficult as she grew older and developed a wider view of the world.  Learning Not To Drown was an emotional story from a perspective that I found deeply moving.  I am really looking forward to this debut author’s future books.



About Anna Shinoda

Anna Shinoda was raised in a mountain town so small it lacked a stoplight. She used to escape into the high branches of trees to read and dream stories, out of reach from her own family skeleton. Eventually, she climbed down with her debut novel, Learning Not to Drown.


5 responses to “Learning Not To Drown By Anna Shinoda

  1. The synopsis did not really grab me but your review did. You’re right; you definitely don’t usually get to see stories from the side of the perpetrators or those who would protect them! Seems like a good pick!

  2. Well, I hadn’t heard about this book before, but your review really made me want to read it, Kate!
    Fantastic review! Adding it to GR now!

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