The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water

by Erin Bartels

As a writer, when I finished The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water, I felt a little bit like Bartels’ ran off with my towel while I was swimming in the lake, leaving me dripping wet in nothing but a swimsuit I should have lost 10 lbs before I dared to put on. I mean, she reveals some pretty real feelings that lots of writers feel. I can attest.

More than that, she reveals how personal trauma can blind us to certain things, even as it focuses us on something else. She shows us that sometimes we do things to ourselves and the people around us that we absolutely cannot see until they cannot be undone.

Wow. This powerful story is loaded. It’s about a childhood friendship. It’s about a writer with writer’s block. It’s about trauma, the people who inflict it, and why. It’s about seeing and not seeing. It’s about truth and the nuances of how to tell it and how to know it. It’s about love and family and dealing with your stuff.

More to the point, this novel is about a place – one that is very familiar to me – the essential summer cottage on a lake up north in Michigan. The place not only smacked me with the truth of my own childhood, but it drew me in, welcomed me home. You see, I moved away years ago, and I only get back for one week every year, and never in winter – until this year, when I read Bartels’ book.

The story has some difficult topics in it and will hit every reader according to their own experiences. But the wonderful and beautiful thing is that this story offers readers hope for the things we cannot undo. There is life after truth. There is life after the story ends. And if your story has an unsatisfying ending so far, there is another part of your story just beneath the surface, ready for you to dive in and write…I mean live.

The writing is beautiful. Bartels took me to the lake. I smelled it, heard the lapping water, and I viscerally remembered how to select the perfect stone for skipping and send it flying across glassy water.

This one is worth your time. If you’ve ever been “up north” in Michigan in the summer, you’ll love it. If you’ve ever failed someone, or needed to forgive someone, this book is for you. But be warned…the story is deep as some of the lakes up there and might send a shiver up your spine.

Spoiler Alert* Content: Very clean, no cussing, no sex on the page. Difficult subjects include: sexual abuse, drug abuse, and possible suicide. Not for children, but fine for teens IMHO.

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