Having previously read The Words Between Us, I knew I’d be reading The Girl that Could Breathe Underwater before I even looked at the synopsis. I wanted another beautifully crafted Erin Bartels story, and I was not disappointed. Through prose-like, at times nearly poetic writing, the setting of Hidden Lake, and those who choose to spend their summers living on its shoreline, came to life.
The first person we meet is Kendra, as this is her story. Or is it? She certainly thinks it is. She’s come to the lake to spend the summer at her grandfather’s cabin, in hopes of completing her second novel in this tranquil, almost-off-grid setting. Trouble is, she’s got a writer’s block going, and it’s paired up with a heavy case of self-doubt, thanks to a critical letter she received from a disappointed reader. Her first book was a hit – good enough to win her a two-book contract. But can she manage a second book—on deadline—in this frame of mind?
Kendra’s story is told in first person narrative. For a time I thought she was speaking directly to me, the reader. But as it turns out, she wasn’t. When I recognized this narrative slight of hand, I became curious to learn more about Cami, the childhood best friend Kendra’s been talking to. Ironically, one of the themes of the story is ‘it’s not always all about you’, a lesson that comes from her best friend, Cami… who we only know through Kendra’s memories.
What starts out as a cozy, comfortable read slowly moves into darker themes. Old memories are re-examined, many of them dark, twisted, hurtful. Kendra hopes that her search for the truth will free her from any misremembered memories, and as a bonus, release her from her writer’s block. Readers are warned that the topics of sexual abuse and death are explored, in a style that doesn’t flinch from the topic but also never hides behind shocking or foul language. In fact, the way the writing stays beautiful makes traveling through those dark places all the more powerful to my mind.
For a time, I felt the character of Andreas, a German translator who’s working on the German version of Kendra’s first book, to be a kindred spirit to me. Neither of us had the long history of lake life everyone else knew. He represents our ‘fresh eyes’ as he gets to know Kendra and the small, tightly-knit community of Hidden Lake.
That ‘what happens next’ sense of curiosity kept me reading in much longer bouts than usual. I finished the book in just a few sittings – well, ‘curlings’, actually, as this was an immersive tea-divan-afghan-cat experience. And now that I am done.. I really want to read the book by Andreas! Please, Erin Bartels, make sure he finishes writing it, bitte?
A final note: I’m confused as to why this book has been classified as Christian Fiction. I wasn’t *looking* for Christian fiction so that didn’t affect me directly, but I think it’s going to be frustrating for any readers hoping for a faith-based story.
My thanks to author Erin Bartels, Revell, and NetGalley for allowing me to read a digital advance review copy of this book. This review is my honest and unbiased opinion.