Underwater – book review

Underwater

Underwater is a heartwarming and poignant novel, written by Marisa Reichardt.

Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day, but her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive – first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then herself.

But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school.

Just when it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. And so she starts thinking that he might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside.

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I feel like I’ve read quite a lot of books that deal with mental illness in the last two weeks – Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, When We Collided, The Things I Didn’t Say, and now Underwater – and I can honestly say that I just can’t get enough of these raw and honest portrayals of what it’s like to live with this kind of disease. I feel that there’s a fine line between writing something that’s accurate and that also resonates with readers, and something that misrepresents these illnesses and almost romanticises them. Whether I’ve just been lucky in picking up books recently that covey what it’s like to have a mental illness accurately and realistically, or whether we’re finally overcoming the stigma surrounding this issue and are becoming more educated and understanding, I don’t know. All I know is that I couldn’t be more thankful to have books like this one in my life. Novels like Marisa Reichardt’s Underwater are what many people rely on to feel as though they aren’t alone in dealing with their problems and that there are people out there struggling in the same ways and fighting to overcome or learn to live despite the illness that can appear so intent in holding them back. And yes, the characters were beautifully written and the language was lyrical, but what I love most about this novel was how it acts as a voice, uniting all of us who struggle with similar illnesses or have dealt with similar issues to sing, our words cutting through the darkness in a linear pathway towards hope and survival and acceptance. Words have the power to bring people together. Words have the power to evoke empathy. Words have the power to allow us to feel joy and love and unity. And all of the words, strung together into sentences to form chapters to form this touching novel, do just that. Underwater’s power isn’t contained just to its pages.

There’s so much I loved about Underwater, one aspect of which being the poignant and lyrical writing. This is the kind of book you’d love to have two copies of – one to keep pristine and clean and beautiful to put on your shelf, and the other to highlight your favourite passages and quotes and make notes in and keep with you at all times, close to your heart. Underwater is the sort of novel that really tugs at your heartstrings, begging you to read certain parts aloud, slowly rolling each word over on your tongue, savouring exquisite way it forms into beautiful, almost rhythmic phrases. Each page is absolutely brimming with emotion. Sometimes the emotions are like gentle waves lapping at your toes. Other times, it’s like a tsunami, threatening to pull you down and leave you as a heap on the floor, curled in the foetal position as your heart radiates with emotion. The extent to which this novel left me vulnerable to such an onslaught of emotion was quite remarkable. Part of what I think allowed me to connect to the characters, especially Morgan, on such a deep level was the way her thoughts were translated onto the page. Each of her worries and her doubts, and also her hopes and so-called impossible dreams emitted from these poignant passages, allowing us to fully immerse ourselves in her life.

Even though I’ve read books revolving around similar themes to this one, in so many ways Underwater felt completely new to me. There was something so refreshing about Morgan’s raw and honest character and the way Marisa Reichardt didn’t shy away from the gritty aspects of a girl living with agoraphobia; a type of severe anxiety. It infuriates me that sometimes people with anxiety are displayed as needy, or even adorable and in need of protection because of their illness. The people who think this have obviosly never experienced anxiety before, have known a person who lives with it, or has even read Marisa Reichardt’s accurate portrayal of it. I know that anxiety takes many different forms and Morgan’s situation is definitely not universal to everyone living with anxiety, but it definitely allowed me to further understand what this sometimes debilitating disease is really like. Even though I’ve read books where characters have anxiety before, this felt like a breath of fresh air. Morgan was unlike any character I’ve read about before, not because of her predicament, but because of her determination and the strength she had to start living again. While she had a great support system, ultimately the change came from within her, and that was a very magical thing to see happen. The courage she was able to find within herself is a clear indicator of the strong, resilient person she truly is.

Another interesting character was Evan, the love interest. There were some gorgeous aspects to him – he was sweet and funny and endearing – but there were also some parts of him that either made me want to cringe or slap him. But the thing is, I don’t hate him for those parts. I understand why Marisa Reichardt wrote him as she did: she didn’t want someone perfect. Perfect people don’t exist, and even if they did, no one would want to read about them because they would be the most boring people you could image. Instead, she wrote someone real. Someone who is flawed and makes mistakes. And yes, sometimes he could seem inconsiderate of Morgan illness and not really seem to understand what she was going through. But I feel that that was an accurate portrayal of many teenagers. Not all of us have a university degree in psychology – not even me. Like Evan, I’ve made mistakes. And just because we make mistakes on our journey to becoming a more understanding and accepting person, that doesn’t mean that people should hate us for that. It just means that we still have room to grow and develop as a person. Possibly my favourite thing about Evan was what he didn’t do. Sounds strange, right? But I loved that he wasn’t Morgan’s ‘cure’ to her agoraphobia or her knight in shining armour. Morgan did that all herself. Evan was just a boy next door; a friend to Morgan, and not some two-dimensional character without a backstory. As there weren’t that many characters in this novel, it was enjoyable (not to mention heartbreaking) to hear about his life and what lead him to becoming the person he is today. For me, one of the most pleasing parts of this book was seeing the solid bonds formed not only between Evan and Morgan, but between everyone: Morgan’s mother, her brother, her friends and her therapist. These relationships felt honest and deep, showing us that while opening yourself up to someone isn’t always easy, putting your trust in someone can turn our to be the most rewarding asset in your life.

Overall, Underwater is a poignant and heartwarming novel about love, loss, the importance of friendship and grilled cheese sandwiches. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, stop and pick up a copy of this gorgeous novel right now. I’d give Underwater by Marisa Reichardt a score of 10 out of 10. Now let’s chat! Have you had a chance to read this book yet? Have you read any books that sound similar? What’s your opinion on love interests that ‘save’ the protagonist? Do you have any recommendations for books I might like? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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