Brandy's Reviews > Breathing Underwater

Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn
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's review
May 03, 2008

it was ok
Read in May, 2008

I know if I don't try to type out my feelings now, I will lose what I am thinking/feeling.

I don't want to say that I didn't like the book, but I have very few good things to say about it. Yes, it captured my interest and I read it quickly. I wasn't ever bored and anxiously waited to see how it ended. There were so many things that I didn't like though.

1. I don't like books that are written for YA that try to "capture" what it is really like in high school. I don't want my kids reading those kind of books. Yes, this may be real life for some, but I hope it isn't real life for my kids. I want my kids to be hanging out with their friends from church, not having sex on the weekends. It seems like authors that try to write like this write about the minority of high school kids. I saw signs posted at the high school that we directed at that say "only 3% of high school students drink alcohol regularly" or something close to that. They are wanting the student body to understand that NOT everyone is doing it, so it bugs me when teen literature makes it seem like everyone does (meaning alcohol, sex, etc).

2. I understand from a friends review that the author was compelled to write this story after working with battered women and children. I can see that she is trying to get the message out there that says you are in control of your own actions and feelings. You need to own up to them and take responsiblity. I honestly don't see how this book is going to create change in young adults. The ending was very predictable. I knew as soon as the book started that he would have an ah-ha moment and suddenly be better or at least be on the road to better at the end. It seemed to "wrapped in a pretty package" to me and I think that high schoolers will see right through it. When I have felt the most compelled to change in my life, it has always been situations (weather listening to someone or even reading something) that the spirit was there. I don't think I ever once felt the spirit while reading this. I think there are more uplifting books on the market to get teens to understand the point the author was trying to make.

3. When I was teaching in Young Womens, a talk I came across from Susan Tanner said that we don't encourage our youth to obey the standards by showing them all the ways they could disobey. Meaning, we don't show them multiple examples of immodest clothing to get the point across to wear something modest. I feel that same way with this book, don't show us violence and anger to get us to not do it, or to get us to change our ways. I don't think the book focused enough on the 'message'. In fact, I didn't really even feel the message of the book until I read my friends review. Until then, I felt like this book was about a jerk who ended up realizing his errors and wanting to change. The problem is that when he wanted to change, the book was over. There was no time spent on the change. So this leaves readers who don't know how to change empty and just like every person who is caught in the abusive cycle... knowing they need to change but not knowing how. The kid in this book got lucky that he was sentenced to take this class. Not many people in real life are going to voluntarily take those type of classes.

So, to end, this book was fine for just reading. But to create change like I suspect the author was trying to do, I think it fails miserably. So folks, that is my initial gut reaction of this book. I am going to sleep on it, and I may change my mind tomorrow!!
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Brandy Ok, I have slept on it and I have another thing to add. When I say that this book fails miserably at getting the "change" message across, that is probably too harsh. I don't think this book will really effect people who read this who are abusors. I am sure that people who are abusive don't always realize that they are that way. Reading this I doubt will make them suddenly see the light. I do think however, that people who are in abusive relationships may see and recognize familiar behaviors and know that they are being abused. Therefore it would be good for those people to read this so hopefully they feel empowerd enough to leave the relationship.

The only good reason I see in having this as required reading in high school is that it will force the kids to talk about it in class. If a high schooler just picked this up on their own, the messages that the author was hoping to get across might not come across. But if they are forced to talk about it in class then that could be a positive thing.

I still stand by my feelings that I hate books that try to create realistic high school life. I know that I said that it isn't the life I my kids will be living (I hope) and I know they will probably see it everyday at school (kids swearing, making out and worse) in the halls, but just because they see it at school doesn't mean I want them to see it in all areas of their life. I don't want them watching movies like that, reading books like that or listening to music like that. The less I can have that type of stuff blairing in my kids face the better.

message 2: by Annette (last edited May 01, 2008 12:09PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Annette OK I've thought about it and I'm going try to make an attempt to reply to your comments.
Unfortunately, I think that most kids CAN relate to Nick's lifestyle. Kids like Nick are NOT a minority, I'm not saying that all kids go around beating up their girlfriends, but they do drink and they do talk about sex a LOT! I'm sorry, but I have serious doubts about the accuracy of the 3% statistic. I think that there are probably even 3% of LDS kids who drink! I guess it just depends on your definition of "regularly".

Also, I think that it's important for people who are writing for teens do portray high school life realistically, otherwise the kids that they are trying to reach won't be able to identify with the main characters and if they can't relate to the characters they won't make the connection that is necessary for it to make an affect on them.

I also think that you underestimate the influence that this book can have on teens. I agree that the students who have issues with violence probably won't instantly turn their lives around after reading this book. But I do feel that she does a good job of planting a seed. It gets them thinking about it and who knows, maybe at sometime later in life something will happen to them that will trigger their memories and they will remember something about the book that will make them want to get the help that they need. I also think that the book can help to prevent abuse especially when it is accompanied with class discussion.

You probably didn't feel the spirit when you read this book because it is so realistic, this is how high school really is! this is how teenage boys really talk, except that the author left out the F-word. Tambre says that she hears that word at least 50 times a day! Not the minority either the majority. Unfortunately, some of the kids with the filthiest mouths are the LDS kids.

I agree with you, it would've been nice if the author had gone on further to explain how he overcame his bad habits. I think that her focus for this particular book was how he went from denial to a desire to change. I think that the author did a pretty good job of getting the message across witout making it so obvious that kids will think their teachers are trying to shove moral standards down their throats.

What really struck me was the message of being responsible for your actions. When Mario talks about pushing his wife out of a moving vehicle, he couldn't blame his abusive father it was his own hands that did it. Another thing that struck me was how she stressed the importance of telling someone. Just like Melinda couldn't begin to recover until she started to speak. Nick also, needed to talk to someone about his abusive father.

It may very well be true that there are better books out there that teach the same lesson, I just haven't come across any, but I haven't researched it either. If you come across anything let me know.

Another thing to remember is that the author wasn't targeting LDS kids when she wrote this book. I'm sure that your kids won't be like the kids in this book, but if they attend public school they will certainly know a lot of other kids who are.

message 3: by Kristine (new)

Kristine well I haven't read the book yet - but I will have to disagree with "3% of hs kids drink alcohol regularly". (I guess if only on weekends isn't regular the stat is true). I don't know how it is where you guys are but according to my brother who graduated a year or two ago -- even smoking weed is almost 100% pervasive. Very few of even the mormon kids avoid it. And I think a majority of high school kids are probably sexually active as well. So . . . yeah. From the sounds of it, it is likely our kids won't be like what's in this book -- but they will know everyone who is. Now I just need to read the book.

Annette I'm sorry for writing so much Brandy, but I just realized that I forgot to address a couple of things. I wanted to let you know that I really liked your quote from Sister Tanner and I agree that the way to help kids to avoid anger and violence is not to show people who are angry and violent, but how do we address it then? Because we can't just ignore it and pretend that it isn't a problem. It is becoming a bigger problem everyday. Columbine is not an isolated incident, it happens far too often.

Also, I realized that I didn't answer your question about what to do if you don't want your child to read a book that is assigned by the teacher. That's a tricky one. Movies are a little easier and I have addressed that one. As far as books, even if you do talk to the teacher and the teacher says it's ok for your child to read something else, it's tricky because they're still going to discuss it in class and it could go on for weeks, so what does your child do everyday while the rest of the class discusses the book? So, I decided that the best way to go about it is to read every book that is assigned before my child does, that way, I'm prepared ahead of time. Then I can either censor it by blacking out the objectional parts or I can talk to them about it. I admit I have mixed feelings about it, Devin will be a freshman in a little more than a year and I'm not sure if I'm going to give him the censored version of the book Breathing Underwater or not. Guys really have a hard time controlling their desires as it is, I certainly don't want to make it harder on him.

Hopefully, that covers everything, if I missed something let me know.

Brandy ok, let me explain the poster I saw. I was trying to remember it late at night. What I did remember was that the statistic surprised me. I just asked one of the students what the poster says (cuz it is everywhere in the school) The poster says "7 out of 10 EVSC students never or rarely drink alcohol" Sorry that I misled you when trying to quote that.

Brandy Ya know, the parts of the book that bug me aren't the violence and abuse. It is the "accurate" depection of high school life. I don't like reading a book where the boy talks about body parts growing and how he notices girls breasts rub against him. I don't like books that have underage drinking as normal behavior because even if it is normal, we don't need to flaunt it and make more kids want to be "normal".

Annette, unfortunately, girls have a hard time controling desires too. I am afraid of how this book would have made me feel when I was in high school. I am so glad I didn't know the details of what goes on inside a guys mind when I was in high school. On one hand, it could have made me feel "turned on" but it also could have made me feel very uncomfortable around guys.

As far as the message, I agree that it needs to be discussed. I guess you are right that sometimes you just need to face the issue head on. This is one of those topics. There is no easy way to solve it. It is the same issue as premarital sex, drinking alcohol and smoking or drugs. It needs to start at home. People that are abused at home obviously won't get the message at home but I know that schools can deliver the message in more appropriate ways. Even this book would be fine with out the little details that I mentioned above. Like in the book Speak, the art teacher was the one who finally got her to break through with his assignment.

I know you said it needs to be a realistic depiction of high school for the kids to relate to it. I don't necessarily think that is true. High School life isn't their only life and I am sure they can relate to lots of things. There are too many facets of personalities and I am sure that it will work with some but not all.

I guess the biggest problem I have is that when I finished the book, I still felt like he was a jerk. She didn't spend enough time on his "change of heart" for me to feel like it was real, it felt predictable and unrealistic. She did such a good job making me believe he was a controling violent person and she didn't spend enough time getting that bad taste out of my mouth. Sure the little example that Mario gave was touching, and I liked his character but it was such a small part that it didn't make up for all the other negative feelings I had during the book. Because of the way I felt at the end, I had a hard time believing that it would actually change a high schooler who has way more of an attitude than I do.

I don't really know what else to say, this topic almost needs to be discussed in person because I have so many ideas floating around in my head and I have rewritten about 15 responses. I will be interested to see what Kristine has to say once she reads it. I think it will be especially interesting because she had a teenager living with her for awhile that had trust issues. I think lots of teenagers have trust issues.

Thanks for responding to my thoughts even though most of them were pretty jumbled and didn't make sense!!

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Um Brandy maybe you don't like reading books that are about high school guys but that's how they are. I listen to them talk about female and male body parts pretty much all day. The only unrealistic thing about the book was the lack of swear words. I think this book can be very useful to parents. If parents aren't aware of what their kids are hearing or talking about in HS then they're not going to be able to help them overcome it. I'm grateful (and disturbed) that I now know what guys think because now I can be aware of the guys at my school and I can avoid dating nasty ones (which is pretty much all of them, even the "LDS" guys, so I won't date until college).

I'm glad you read that book, even though you hated it, (which I did too when I read it), because now you have a better idea of what's out there. HS is hell. Its going to be in your child's face someday and it's important to know how to help her throught that.

I know Nick is a guy but I could totaly relate to his experience. That is way better than having a serious/awkward class discution, or reading a dry-as-sand nonfiction book on the subject. It'll stay in my memory longer too. I recognisze a lot of the signs of an abusive relationship in some kids at school. Girls who read this novel can aviod getting in those relationships.

I agree with you that the book is not going to change an abuser's mind. That is entirely up to the guy. But its useful in other ways.

In short I hate the darn book and I hate darn HS but what are you gonna do. Both are necessary in evil ways. It's like going to the dentist.

BTY Brandy, if my review freaked you out, don't worry. We're still friends even if we disagree.
If you want a more enjoyable kick in the butt-I mean realistic view of HS, watch the movie Juno. I loved it, but don't let your kids see it.

Brandy Tamber, actually I do know what it is like in high school. I just spent a year with them directing. I have worked with youth for a long time and even though I don't walk down the halls every day, I have a pretty good picture from what is described to me. I agree with you that as parents we need to be informed about what our kids experience every day at school. But my point is, just because you see and hear it at school doesn't mean that you should be exposed to it all the time. Since you hear about sex at school, does that mean it is ok to watch rated R movies that are full of sex? What about rap music that has vulgar lyrics that talk about raping women? I mean, that is what is out there in the real world right?? Since it is happening should we accept it? That is not what I think. It is one thing to be aware and even try to make the world a better place, but it is another to participate in something just because that is reality.

"So you see, when life itself seems lunatic who knows where maddness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is maddness, to seek treasure where there is only trash. And maddest of all, to see life as it really is and not as it ought to be" ~Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha

You are right, High School is full of evil. That is the exact stuff I want my kids to be exposed to as little as possible. So when it comes to the type of media they take into their life, I don't want it to be more of what they get at school. If you think high school is hell why would you want to read about it more outside of school?

I did say that one good thing that this book could do is make people who are being abused aware of it. I still think that they could take out the "realism" and it wouldn't be a boring non-fiction book. I have reciently read "Hoot" and "Stargirl" and both of them had really great messages that inspired me and they didn't have all the high school crap in them even though they were about high schoolers. Both books by the way are pretty popular, so I know that teenagers like them.

And I agree that we can disagree and still be friends. :)

Annette First of all, I want to apoligize because I think that my raving review gave you the wrong impression and I think that you were expecting something completely different when you picked up the book. I plan to revise my review so that I don't lead anyone else astray.

Also, I would like to explain myself a little bit. I've been on a "realism kick" lately because I realized that I was making a big mistake with my kids. I was trying so hard to protect them from the world and by doing that I was actually making them more vulnerable. As a mother, I want so badly to shield them from reality. But, what I really need to be doing is teaching them how to rise above the rest of the world. I was homeschooling my kids because I didn't want them to be exposed to the exact things that are in the book we've been discussing. I didn't want them to hear the crude language, or see kids making out in the halls etc. I was trying to create a safety bubble for them. We are told to "live in the world but not of the world", I was trying to keep my children out of the world. But then I realized that I was not properly preparing them for the future by shielding them from the harsh realities of the world. Of course, we have to draw the line somewhere and I may still need to pull my children out of the public school system in the future. All any of us can do is listen to the spirit and allow it to guide us as we make these important desicions for our children.

I would like to quote Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak. In the back of the book she included her feelings on censorship and I think that this may help to explain why my view is what it is regarding the book Breathing Underwater. It is a little long, I apoligize.

"These are scary days in which to raise teenagers. I know. I have four of them. Part of the problem is that we have a generation that has been exposed to unprecedented amounts of sexual behavior in the media and on the Internet. They see it, they talk about it, their hormones react, and a lot of kids wind up in painful situations.
Literature is the safe and traditional vehicle through which we learn about the world and pass on values from one generation to the next. Books save lives.
Contemporary young adult literature surprises some people, because it is an accurate reflection of the way today's teenagers talk, think, and behave. But these books must be honest in order to connect to the teen reader. America's teens are desperate for responsible, trustworthy adults to create situations in which they can discuss the issues that are of the highest concern for them. Reading and discussing books is one of the most effective ways to get teens to think through and learn about the challenges of adolescence.
Most of the censorship I see is fear-driven. I respect that. The world is a very scary place. It is a terrifying place in which to raise children, and in particular, teenagers. It is human nature to nuture and protect children as they grow into adulthood. But censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in darkness and makes them vulnerable.
Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them. They need us to be brave enough to give them great books so they can learn how to grow up into the men and women we want them to be."

Brandy, I'm not trying to "convert" you to my way of thinking, I just wanted you to understand where my view was coming from and why I feel the way I do about the book. Thank you so much for taking the time to read all of my comments and respond to them. I greatly respect your opinion and I have really enjoyed reading your comments. It has made me take a deeper look into myself and think about why I feel so strongly about these issues. Thanks again! You are awesome!:)

Brandy Annette, I understand where you are comming from. I too sometimes feel the need to protect my kids from the world. I won't however, take my kids out of school and other public things just to protect them. I feel that we can protect ourselves from the evils of the world by not submerging ourselves in it. We can be in the world by going to public school, doing sports and other recreational activities and NOT be in the world by watching movies, reading books and other things that emulate the world. I imagine it in my head as thousands of people across the world with pillars of light around them that protect them from the evils that are all around. The people can still see the evils and they understand they are out there and know how bad it is, but they are not participating. In fact, I hope that because of their light, they can spread it to others.

I appreciate your quote and it is a good one. She makes some very good points. However, she is just someone who wrote a book. I have no idea what her beliefs are or how she lives her life. I do know what I am told in the For the Strength of Youth booklet.

"Whatever you read, listen to, or look at has an effect on you. Therefore, choose only entertainment and media that uplift you. Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices. It will allow you to enjoy yourself without losing the Spirit of the Lord.

While much entertainment is good, some of it can lead you away from righteous living. Offensive material is often found in web sites, concerts, movies, music, videocassettes, DVDs, books, magazines, pictures, and other media. Satan uses such entertainment to deceive you by making what is wrong and evil look NORMAL and exciting. It can mislead you into thinking that everyone is doing things that are wrong."

Now, with this book, the violence is not portrayed as normal or acceptable. I think it is something that is fine to read because it is trying to make us aware of the problem and even help people who may be experiencing the problem. The problem I have is all the other things added in to the book to portray normal life in high school. If we need to add that type of stuff to make it relatable to the students then we have a serious problem. I don't want to contribute to that problem and cater to it by going against what has been taught to me by the prophet just so we can get a different good point across.

I don't want to hide my children under a rock. I do however want to arm them with knowledge and power. You are right, I want to teach them to rise above the filth in the world. Having your kids in the public school system should be enough to let them have a good idea what is out there, we don't need to add it in to all the media we take in also just so they really understand it.

So, I guess I am responding because I just want to make it clear that I have no intention of hiding the world from my kids. I do have every intention of teaching the words of the prophet and doing my best to apply it in my life and hopefully with that, my kids will be strong enough to not falter when they are amist the evil pressures.

As I stated in my first review, these type of books bug me, and now you know all the little details why. I am not saying that they need to bug you, and if they don't I certainly don't think any less of you. This is one of those situations that is not black and white and many different interpertations can be made, none of which is the one true right way. Like you said, we just need to let the spirit guide us. This book is one I feel that the spirit tells me not to read or have my kids read. The problem I am now facing is what do I do when the spirit tells me something is bad but my child is required to read it in school. I guess that is when we have lots of family discussions because hopefully books read in school aren't bad enough to warrent public humiliation or putting a bad name on mormons or even making my children want to rebel.

I commend you Annette for reading all the books your kids read and talking about it with them in your home. I also don't feel like you were accusing me of wanting to hide my kids. I am glad you have replied and let me know your point of view because it helps me to understand mine better and even adjust it when it is too far off in left field. That is what I love about this forum.

Annette All of those quotes and words of wisdom are perfect for a Sunday School lesson, but again... this book was not written with LDS kids in mind! What about the rest of the world?

I agree that she should have left out some of the crude language, but if she left out some of drinking she would've left out a very important point - drinking leads to violence!!! I don't think that she was promoting it by having her main characters drink, she was addressing it as part of the problem.

As far as the sex is concerned, I think that she did a very good job of showing that, that was another way that Nick tried to excercise control over Caitlin. It was another way of showing what a control freak he was. In contrast, she also showed his best friend Tom who accepted the fact that Liana wanted to wait until marriage.

message 12: by Brandy (last edited May 02, 2008 02:26PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Brandy The bad thing about this discussion is that now anyone who reads it before reading the book is going to have a very distorted view of the book going in to it.

Annette Actually I think it's a good thing. I think we check and balance each other pretty well, don't you?

message 14: by Kristine (new)

Kristine I'm actually looking forward to reading it - just to see what all the fuss is about :-)

Brandy That is what I mean Kristine, when you read the book you are probably going to wonder what all the fuss is about. It probably isn't as big a deal as our conversation makes it seem. I think this ended up being a conversation more about weather we should read "realistic" HS life books rather than a conversation based specifically on this book only. That is what I was talking about anyway. I hope this conversation doesn't ruin the book for you.

Annette You didn't actually read all of these comments did you Kristine? I kinda thought most people had lost interest a while ago.

Annette What happened to your comment Kristine? I could've sworn I saw a comment here the other day with your name on it. It seems to have disappeared!

Brandy I think I accidently deleted it. I was going to reply to it and then decided not to so I hit delete thinking it was deleting my reply but then I noticed her comment was gone so I think it deleted her comment too. Sorry!

Annette No problem! I'm just glad that I'm not the only one who does stuff like that. At least you don't make comments in someone else's name! Tambre and I always have to be careful and check everytime we get on to make sure that we are not on one anothers file.

message 20: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra BabIe This book gives meaning to alot of kids and im kind of sad that parents cant even see that. When someone is going through problems they dont just come to there parents about it or there friends they read. Having freshmen read this book IS a good idea and parents to dont want there children to understand that there are bad things out there are truly wrong. And im not saying this to be rude. Im a freshman in high school and i have read book way worse then this. And you might think your child cant handle or cant understand it but they guessing they've seen worse. Ive grown up in a pretty "high in class" neighborhood and i know of these things because im simply not notice these things in junior High

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

Hi Brandy, I haven't read this book but it was recommended to me and that's I got onto your review...that started such an interesting conversation. I just want to say that I was miserable in high school but I was a nerd. My problems weren't from drinking and having abusive boyfriends. The books that saved my life were realistic books about kids going through what I was and somehow moving past it, realistically, in a way I could apply to myself. So I guess I'm just saying realism has its place, and I'm guessing your kids will be drawn to books that speak to them. One thing I did want to say though, is I do think you are right about an abusive person not changing easily. Also, what is scary to me, and hopefully it is shown in the book, is that abused people often continue a pattern of being abused throughout their life...

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