Girl Underwater by Claire Kells

Girl Underwater by Claire Kells
Pub. Date: August 16, 2016 (orig. March, 2015)
Source: e-copy via publisher (Thank you, Dutton!)
Summary: Nineteen-year-old Avery Delacorte loves the water. A sophomore on her university’s nationally ranked swim team, she finally feels popular and accepted — especially by Lee, her kind and outgoing boyfriend.

But everything changes when Avery’s red-eye home for Thanksgiving makes a ditch landing in a mountain lake in the Colorado Rockies. There are only five survivors: Avery, three little boys, and Colin Shea– the teammate Avery has been avoiding since the first day of freshman year. Faced with sub-zero temperatures, minimal supplies, and the dangers of a forbidding nowhere, Avery and Colin must rely on their talents, willpower, and each other in ways they never could have imagined.

Yet when Avery emerges from her ordeal alive, terrified of the water, conflicted by her emotions, and evasive of her memories, she must face the harrowing realization that rescue doesn’t necessarily mean survival.
Genre: Fiction, Survival

Wow. That’s all I have to say about this one: wow. Going into Girl Underwater I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. A survival story? A thriller? A New Adult-y romance complete with love triangle and tortured past? I mistakenly assumed this would be a simple, quick read that would entertain me for an afternoon and then we would part ways, never to meet again. Instead, while Girl Underwater was a quick read, I hadn’t realized just how gripping it would be and I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that I would become so emotionally invested in these characters!

Avery is a 19-year-old sophomore whose world revolves around swimming. Since she was a little girl she’s felt more at home in the water than on land. With a gorgeous boyfriend swimming alongside her and a secure spot on her university’s swim team in an event she’s perfected, Avery is finally hitting her stride and beginning to settle into her new life in sunny California. All of that changes, however, when she boards a last-minute flight back home to Boston for Thanksgiving. As the plane reaches the Rockies, disaster strikes, leaving only five survivors: Avery, a fellow teammate, and three little boys.

Although Avery has done her best to avoid Colin at school, she suddenly realizes they need to work together to survive. Their primitive lean-to will only stave off the freezing temperatures for so long and without food and medical supplies, there’s no telling how much longer they can last.

Girl Underwater uses one of my favorite storytelling techniques: a dual timeline. The chapters alternate between the time spent in the wilderness and the present day – just a few short months later – as Avery tries to pick up the pieces and find her place in this new life. While both stories were well done, it was the survival aspect that had me intrigued (perhaps because I had recently finished Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall and am on a plane crash kick??). Avery and Colin are hurt and starved and freezing, which would be bad enough, but they also have three very little boys to look after.

Even though the survival story had me invested in the lives and well being of these characters, Girl Underwater wasn’t without its faults. Throughout the novel, Avery was adamant about avoiding Colin and I never understood why. I get that perhaps Kells was trying to create some tension, but it was never stated why Avery was so insistent on steering clear of this guy. Another plot point that confused me was Avery’s “lie.” The moment she was rescued reporters were crawling over one another for an interview and in the heat of the moment she said something in an attempt to get the press to back off. The lie eats at her over the course of the novel and when it’s finally revealed what really happened…I was speechless. And not in a good way. Have you ever heard the phrase ‘making a mountain out of a molehill?’ Avery did just that. In her mind her little fib became the be all, end all and to be honest I didn’t see what the big deal was.

So while Girl Underwater had a few issues, I’m pleasantly surprised with the overall result. I’m a big fan of quiet, older titles and don’t remember seeing much buzz when it was first released back in 2015. Avery’s struggles with PTSD, three newly-orphaned little boys who totally tugged on my heartstrings (oh, Tim you sweet, sweet boy!), an excellent back-and-forth narrative, and an intriguing plot all came together to make this one a fantastic hidden gem! Girl Underwater is Claire Kells’ debut and I’m eagerly looking forward to what she does next.

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