Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Breathing Underwater, by Alex Flinn

When Nick's ex-girlfriend Caitlin gets a restraining order against him and the judge orders him into a family violence counseling group, Nick has to take a hard look at how he got there and what he can do about it. Initially quick to blame his ex-, Nick gradually accepts his own role in the process.

Slightly better than last year's overrated Inexcusable, this book still goes for the sledgehammer approach to explaining the cycle of abuse. Flinn worked for years in the courts, so she is pulling from her experience, but a bit more subtlety would have improved the story. From the very first page, we know what makes Nick a bad person and what he needs to acknowledge about himself, so reading this novel becomes an exercise in seeing how long it will take Nick to come around. That's a pretty weak dramatic device and a bit of a disservice to the reader. With that caveat, Flinn goes much further into showing a bit about why Caitlin would put up with the abuse and in showing how the community around them responds to it. In doing so, she creates a fuller picture than similiar problem books have done.

I will, however, reiterate my concern (expressed in my Inexcusable review) about all these simplistic depictions of relationship-based violence. It's far to easy to present these evil guys who do evil things. I remain convinced that the story that really needs to be written is about the "nice" boy who does evil things. Given what a monster Nick was, you'd have to be a complete idiot to want to date him. What young people (girls especially) need to understand is that these monsters are not always so easy to spot. The world is full of greys and that is what makes domestic violence such a terrible problem. In the real world, the Caitlins of the world don't always have as clear of an idea that they are in danger.

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