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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: Learning Not to Drown by Anna Shinoda

Title: Learning Not to Drown
Author: Anna Shinoda
Publisher: Atheneum BFYR/Simon & Schuster
Pub. Date: April 1, 2014
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 14+

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Clare has spent her entire life living in the shadow of her brother Luke's reputation. For years, he's been in and out of jail on various drug charges and, every time he's out, he promises things will be different, but Clare knows better than most that even prison can't banish the monster that is addiction. Despite everything Luke has put her family through, Clare's parents constantly defend him, no matter his sins. To add insult to injury, Clare and her brother Peter are constantly measured against Luke and, in their parents' eyes, always found lacking. Still, Clare loves her brother and believes this time, things might be different. 

When truths about Luke's crimes surface and he finds himself, once again, on the wrong side of the law - this time putting Clare's future at risk - Clare must make a decision that might haunt her forever: turn her back on Luke and her parents or sacrifice herself and her future for family. Tackling drug addiction, family skeletons, and the necessity of breaking free of damaging familial relationships, LEARNING NOT TO DROWN is a debut novel that burns with an intensity readers won't soon forget.

It's difficult to succinctly mention the many issues Anna Shinoda takes on in LEARNING NOT TO DROWN. Which, I suppose, is understandable, because drug addiction, a family member going to prison, secrets, and lies all create a ripple effect that's impossible to simplify. Shinoda attempts to understand and create a picture of these effects with LEARNING NOT TO DROWN and have to say, she does a remarkable job. The issues that Clare is dealing with - judgement from her peers because of who her brother is, unrealistic expectations from her parents, doubting her ability to judge someone's character (after truths are revealed about her brother's crimes), etc - have the ability to decimate a person, but Clare is resilient and is determined to overcome the cards she's been dealt. Clare's strength shines in the bleak landscape her family has allowed her world to become, making her growth and successes an inspiration.


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