By Claire Kells
Available now from Dutton (Penguin Random House)
GIRL UNDERWATER has some unfortunate timing. Books come out on a long-set schedule, and no one can control current events. But GIRL UNDERWATER starts with a plane crash, which probably isn't what most people want to read right now.
(I will admit that this fictional crash mostly bothered me because the dangling oxygen masks are repeatedly mentioned, but no one puts one on. The oxygen masks drop when cabin pressure drops, and you should put yours on immediately and then assist nearby children and other people who can't get their own on. The bag may not inflate, but oxygen is still flowing. Hasn't Claire Kells listened to the safety demonstration?)
Avery Delacorte is a college freshman, a swimmer, and one of five survivors of a plane crash into a lake. Her teammate Colin survived, as did three little boys. GIRL UNDERWATER alternates between the past, with the five working to survive their wounds and their lack of food sources in the increasingly hostile winter, and the present, where Avery struggles to readjust to normal life. She's clearly traumatized by her experience, and she's internalizing everything. She won't even talk to Colin or the boys, the only people who know what she's been through.
I found Avery fascinating. I didn't always understand her decisions, but I did understand why she was making them. She's horrified by what she did and didn't do to survive and she's terrified of the media scrutiny. She wants to be forgotten, not remembered as a hero. She feels a lot of shame. The past narrative contradicts a lot of her feelings of inadequacy, showing that her cool head, first aid skills, and other talents were vital in their survival. She's blaming herself for no good reason, but at the same time it is a believable reaction to the awful things she went through.
GIRL UNDERWATER weaves together a survival story, a recovery story, and a romance in a compelling mix. This is Kells' first novel, but it feels quite polished. I couldn't wait to find out how Colin and Avery saved themselves and the kids, nor how Avery would manage to get her feet under her again. She found reserves of strength in the wilderness, but that doesn't mean she automatically knows what to do with them.
GIRL UNDERWATER will appeal to fans of HATCHET and other classic survival stories. I liked that GIRL UNDERWATER also encompassed what happened to the survivors after they went home. It's a sharply realized little book.