Underwater by Marisa Reichardt hit close to home and severed my heart...but I loved it

UnderwaterTitle: Underwater
Series: N/A
Author: Marisa Reichardt
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publication: January 12th 2016, Pan Macmillan's Children's Books
Pages: 256 Pages, Kindle
Source: Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan's Children's Books for granting my request to review this undeniably beautiful read!
Rating: 5/5 Cupcakes!
Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. 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. 
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. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside. 
Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.

Guys, I loved this book. Like I seriously loved it. When I saw that I actually got accepted to review it, I may have flailed slightly too hard and scared people BUT ANYWAY, this book was magnificent. I really wanted to love it because it was about an anxiety disorder, something that I myself have, and I so badly wanted it to be executed in a realistic, genuine manner because it's something that is so awful and something that affects so many people and I've read books where someone has anxiety but it's not written about correctly and the recovery process is insultingly quick and easy. Underwater didn't disappoint, it showed perfectly the brutal, gritty truth of how it is living with a mental illness and I loved it even more than I thought I would.

At some points Underwater was actually quite hard for me to read because it hit so close to home, it made me remember my awful anxiety. When it was so bad that I not only couldn't leave the confines of my own home but that even being inside, being anywhere, felt like I was being poisoned as the panic would storm in so violently and so rapidly. Several times I actually had tears swimming in my eyes because I felt for Morgan, I had been Morgan. I felt every ounce of anguish, helplessness and anger that she felt because I too had felt it at some point in my life. I think everybody who suffers from an anxiety disorder should read this, or anybody who just wants to learn more about it because it's written so honestly and I think that's the greatest thing that anyone who writes about mental illness should try to accomplish. The truth.

Like I've said, Underwater is about Morgan who suffers from PTSD after her high school was the victim of a shooting...and because she also played a part in it. Morgan blames herself for everything that happened that day after a simple act of kindness, she believes, led to the occurrence of the sickening event. Struck with fear and guilt Morgan can't even step outside her front door, but she's doing small steps to get better. When Evan, the boy from Hawaii, who brings the scent of the ocean and the warmth of the sun, he reminds Morgan of all she used to love and with the help of his friendship (and maybe something more) perhaps Morgan could try even harder to overcome the debilitating illness that has become her life.

I adored Morgan. I think what I loved most about her was how she was so brave and she never. gave. up. She always tried to get better. Even before Evan came into her life, she was trying. She had her days where she felt like this tumultuous maelstrom would never cease (I told you, the author displayed all the gritty truth of living like this) but she always clambered back to her feet and KEPT GOING. Her character growth throughout the novel is astounding. She goes from being anxious, withdrawn and scared of life to stronger, braver, more understanding and more forgiving. I loved how realistic she was too. The anxiety, the anger, the pounding voice of "Why?" ricocheting around her head. The loneliness and the sadness, gosh, that got to me. Tears literally streamed out of my eyes when I saw who she once was and how she was now. The same daily routine at home, by herself (except when her mom and little brother got home) and the constant worries and thoughts flitting around her brain. It reminded me so much of my time when I was so anxious and it completely severed my heart to see her suffer like that because I knew how awful it was and I hated that anyone else had to go through that. Ever.

There was only one thing I didn't really like about Morgan and it's the only issue I had with the entire book is that I felt she was sometimes too snappy with people. I understand that she was so wrapped up in her illness and it's quite an easy thing to completely drown yourself in, but I did feel like she could be unnecessarily rude sometimes. But I could completely understand her reasoning and how she felt like nobody understood and that nobody wanted to be around the "weird", anxious girl because it was the exact same thoughts I had faced previously. Besides that tiny factor, I adored Morgan.

Evan, ah Evan, be still my heart. He was so nice. And so very understanding and patient with Morgan, not to mention downright hilarious! Despite his empathy towards Morgan's situation, he wasn't afraid to set Morgan straight when she dwelled too much on only her problems. I also appreciated that he was happy just being friends with Morgan first and that they got to know each other before delving into a relationship. I also loved how good he was to Morgan's little brother. HE WAS JUST SO AMAZING, I'm literally in love with him okay.

Morgan's family also featured regularly throughout the book, SO YAY! I love books with strong family dynamics and Underwater definitely succeeded in that element as well. Morgan's parents are divorced. Her mom works hard to support their family and she had so many stresses to deal with, I felt so sorry for her! I loved Morgan's little brother, Ben, he was so sweet and I also feel like he played a big part in motivating Morgan to get better - he was definitely an important factor in Morgan's recovery! I loved how close they were and how Morgan would literally do anything to protect her brother, it was utterly heartwarming. 

Then there was Morgan's father. He worked in the military but whenever he returned he was more damaged, more broken down than before and rapidly losing who he used to be. It was awful seeing how rejected and despondent Morgan felt about her dad, and how afraid she was that she'd end up like him - alone and lost and not able to get any help for her problems. It broke my heart.

THE ROMANCE. Ahh, I loved the romance. At first I thought it was going to be insta-love but nope, Morgan was just so excited to see another person and make a friend (it really touched me how badly she wanted to be around people again and how badly she needed somebody) that she was overly excited to meet someone. I adored how Morgan and Evan were friends first, I adored how Evan didn't instantly cure Morgan of her anxiety, I loved how they could talk to each other and help each other overcome their demons. Their banter, I really loved their banter and their care for each other and encouragement and gah, they were just too adorable.

Then there was the writing. I loved the writing in this book, it was lithe and moved fluidly. It exposed all the horrors and daily struggles of living with anxiety. Like I said before, I felt everything that Morgan felt in this book. I felt her fear and guilt hanging like an oppressive cloud, I felt, literally, felt her happiness and enthusiasm seeping from my Kindle when she started taking small steps, when she started feeling like she was nearly complete with sewing the tattered remnants of her former self together. I also like how she incorporated the viewpoints of others who had survived the school shooting and showed how grief and trauma can all affect us differently. Some people developed anxiety, some people pretended they were fine, some people took up self-defense and worked on building muscle so the next time they could be strong enough to save not only themselves, but others too. It was breathtaking and utterly anguishing to see the devastating impact this event had on so many individuals.

Another thing that I thought was written well were the scenes of the school shooting. It chilled me to the bone and made me question my faith in humanity and it seriously felt like my heart was being punctured and my emotions attacked due to seeing all turmoil and anger and mind-numbing fear that the people who had experienced the shooting felt. In South Africa, school shootings don't really happen and although I could always understand how awful it must be to experience that, I actually felt like I was experiencing it firsthand in this book and it sickened me that events like this have actually happened. It really affected me. It was only a couple of scenes and snippets but the unadulterated horror of that event just made me fully see how tragic the whole situation is.

Last but not least, I want to talk about Morgan's recovery which I think was executed flawlessly. It was realistic, the most important thing you can include in your writing when dealing with mental illness. Firstly, she was already wanting to get better before she met her love interest. Already trying. Meeting Evan just gave her an extra shove to get better so that she could do things again, because he reminded her of the things that she missed, of swimming and oceans and sunshine and meeting him just made her remember and pulled her out of the deep pit she was slowly sinking into. Secondly, Evan didn't speed up her recovery. She still had her anxiety BADLY when they were friends, just because she was friends with him didn't mean that now she could magically step out of her front door. THANK YOU. I've read so many books where meeting the "right guy" instantly fixes every problem and while that would be nice, IT DOESN'T HAPPEN. Thirdly, I loved how the author showed the moments where she was better but then something would set off her anxiety and it would pull her into the whirlpool of panic again. I loved how at one part in the novel she had to push herself to ridiculous amounts out of her desperation to help a loved one and I LOVED how even though she knew she had to do this, she still had a mild panic attack, still felt like she was losing control and was still plagued by attacking thoughts but she knew she had to do it. I loved, loved how beautifully honest and raw that scene was. That despite wanting something so badly, despite needing to do something so badly, sometimes you feel like you just can't. 

Basically, I loved Underwater and it's one of my new favorites. It was an unflinching, haunting novel about loss, tragedy, grief and forgiveness. Underwater had an immense impact on me and made me feel every bit of despair, every bit of sadness, loneliness, anger and overwhelming joy that the characters felt. It was a novel that took a bleak topic, brutal in its truth, and infused it with hope and redemption. Underwater is a mesmerizing literary work that I don't think I'll quite be able to forget. It's a novel that sends out hope and encouragement that you too can tackle your inner demons - just like the delightful characters in this powerful, uplifting story did, Read this book, please.

I give it: 5/5 CUPCAKES!