Left DrowningLeft Drowning by Jessica Park

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Initial reaction: This book had a lot of caveats to it with respect to elements that I think could’ve been presented better and fleshed out. I really didn’t like the heroine much – whereas the surrounding cast of characters were a little more tolerable, and the fact that the ending came full circle bumped this up to a higher rating than I was initially going to give it.

This is probably going to be a solid 2.5 to 3 stars, depending on how I sort through how to explain what this novel did well and what it didn’t.

Full review:

For a book I requested on accidental terms, I did not expect to be somewhat taken by Jessica Park’s “Left Drowning.” In the scheme of New Adult reads I’ve picked up as of late, this knocked many of its peer reads in the group in terms of plausible character development, conflict, real world tangibility, and connectivity.

But I could argue it had several caveats that I outright didn’t like, and I would say don’t completely shed the coat of stereotyping that typifies this age group. There is some (male) slut shaming, the heroine is pretty unlikable in spurts (including one measure where she jokes about “sexually assaulting/molesting” her lover), and there are times when I’d like to say that the college environment could’ve been more vivid, but as far as the conflict and character dynamic were concerned – this was much more plausible than some of the other reads I’ve had thus far.

I would give a warning about the strong sexual content that’s in this book, and note it could easily fit under adult contemporary erotic romance. It personally didn’t bother me (perhaps with exception for the repetitiveness and long, drawn out nature of such scenes – I’ve read better in the scheme of some writers), but I get that this is a read for anyone 18+. It is clearly NOT for children/YA.

To take a brief tangent, I think one of the other reasons I liked this story so much is because it reminds me of a Sundance film I saw many years ago (whose name eludes me now). It was one of the titles I picked up back when I used to rent movies from Blockbuster (yes, it was a while ago) and the movie was under the heading Youth Restricted Viewing, or YRV. It was my freshman year of college when I watched it. The storyline revolved around a bunch of college friends who fell in and out of love in their relationships and dealt with a lot of tough subjects (including parental deaths, personal tragedies, growing pains) for the friends they highlighted, a group of three. It had strong sexual content, but none of it felt exploitative or for the sake of providing a conflict vehicle – it was just showing their lives and the conflict was contained in real world context with respect to things that directly impacted the relationships and personal lives of the characters in the story. It never felt that the conflict was thrown in willy-nilly.

“Left Drowning” is evocative of that, telling the story of college senior Blythe McGuire. She’s six months away from graduation, living her life in a fog of sorts. She starts off the novel drunk, depressed, and pretty much stuck in a rut, which I’ll admit made me worry about where the story would go. Her parents are dead, her brother hates her for a tragedy that remains unspoken of until a good way into the novel (and by that time, I understood where her grief originated). She then meets rather odd personalities – first Sabin (whose over the top personality may make or break some readers) then Christopher (Chris). Chris actually has a nice introduction scene where he engages in a skipping stone lesson with Blythe, though there are some awkward moments of drama I felt that did eventually smooth themselves for the better in terms of the character development.

I am happy to say that this book had absolutely no male characters (with the exception of an obvious antagonist) that were abusive jerks and glorified for the sake of that abuse. I was starting to think that every NA book I picked up would have a protagonist that I would either not care enough about to follow in the story or that I would absolutely loathe to the point of oblivion. The characters in this actually felt…normal. Flawed yes, problematic at times, yes, but ultimately – they were normal people dealing with some tough situations. Blythe actually comes to terms with meeting Chris and Sabin’s family (they’re brothers), and ultimately the story is kind of a coming to terms for Blythe in that she learns what it means to come outside of her grief and remember the things that hurt her.

What kept this from being a higher rated read for me personally were some measures that I couldn’t really look over as the story transpired. I felt that the narrative was a slow burner – sometimes it worked, sometimes it was a little dull and overly introspective. I also think the two shifts in POV (from predominantly first perspective to third) were awkward and may have been better if it had kept to one POV throughout the narrative. I’ve read some stories that toggled between the POV in a great way (see my thoughts on Sophie Hannah’s “Little Face”), but this actually threw me out of the story when they came up and I didn’t – at first – know what they were leading up to. I also wasn’t really fond of the long passages of religious bargaining, though I understood where it was coming from and why – I just thought it took me out of the novel for frequency.

I thought the vast majority of the characters in this novel were worth following, though Blythe got on my nerves more often than not. I had a hard time with her in turns of the story – though I think in the moments of her grief and coming to terms with certain things – I realized why she acted that way and could sympathize for the magnitude of the reveals. The dramatic elements were punctuated well in certain turns of the story (especially with respect to personal grief). I really wasn’t expecting to be blindsided by a twist with respect to the relationships that came within 5% of the novel’s end. I have to admit that was well done and I didn’t see it coming.

On the other hand, there were dramatic points that really weren’t followed that well, including a point where Blythe suddenly forgives Chris of a pretty darned major transgression. Could I see that happening in real life? Sure. Do I think the coming to terms would be that quick? Absolutely not. Some of the interactions between characters – both intimate and casual interactions – were fluffy, but I actually handled that better than some of the awkward turns where the emotional recuperation time just didn’t mesh.

I’ll admit the sex scenes and self pleasure scenes made this book longer than it should’ve been. I’m not knocking them for inclusion because they didn’t feel exploitative and out of context with the novel, but I’m pretty sure that there was a good 10% of this novel that had nothing but one sex scene after the other. In some of the better erotic romance novels I’ve read, these are balanced with more anticipation, but in this some of them were repetitive and likely because they were in too close proximity.

In the end, I think if I took this novel for what it had to offer, it was fine, and I was appreciative of the experience when it was all said and done. It’s one of the better examples of developed storylines I’ve seen in NA. I would classify this more as adult contemporary erotic romance more, but I think I see the NA classification because it does invoke a college environment, it does invoke a proper coming to terms for the age range it’s depicting, and it does carry its respective themes with some weight and maturity compared to the vast majority of stories I’ve perused here. It was worth the time and I think some might end up liking this more than I did.

Overall score: 2.5/5

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Amazon.

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