Title: Left Drowning
Author: Jessica Park
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
Source: I received this book from BEA in exchange for an honest and thoughtful review.
What does it take to rise from life’s depths, swim against the current, and breathe?
Weighted down by the loss of her parents, Blythe McGuire struggles to keep her head above water as she trudges through her last year at Matthews College. Then a chance meeting sends Blythe crashing into something she doesn’t expect—an undeniable attraction to a dark-haired senior named Chris Shepherd, whose past may be even more complicated than her own. As their relationship deepens, Chris pulls Blythe out of the stupor she’s been in since the night a fire took half her family. She begins to heal, and even, haltingly, to love this guy who helps her find new paths to pleasure and self-discovery. But as Blythe moves into calmer waters, she realizes Chris is the one still strangled by his family’s traumatic history. As dark currents threaten to pull him under, Blythe may be the only person who can keep him from drowning.
Holy frick you guys. I was not expecting the pure brilliance that is this book. I was expecting a little sadness, a little character growth, and a little romance. What I didn’t think I was going to get was two main characters who totally and completely captured my heart with their pain, their pasts, and their love. I was not expecting a purely exceptional cast of side characters who were so awesome and dynamic and just awesome (did I mention that they are awesome?) that I felt like I had made the world’s greatest group of friends by the end of the book. And most importantly, I was not expecting to have my heart practically ripped out only to have Jessica piece it back together again with such a beautiful story of friendship, heartbreak, and love. Basically, Left Drowning exceeded all of my wildest expectations and left me thinking about the story and the characters days after reading the book.
After her parent’s death four years ago, Blythe McGuire is drowning in pain, loneliness, guilt, and sorrow. At a loss with how to cope with such a tragic event, Blythe turns into a loner. She goes to classes, gets drunk at the occasional party, makes drunken phone calls to her estranged younger brother, and alienates herself from those people who care for her. Blythe’s pain was nearly palpable throughout this whole story, most importantly at the beginning. I felt that just by reading the book, that I was experiencing all of those feelings with her. I wanted so bad to console her, help her, take the pain from her, just something to make it at least a little better for her. But since this was a book (i.e. not real) I had to leave the saving up to some other people. Luckily they were freaking amazeballs.
Blythe is saved by a group of people known as the Shepherd siblings. They are all the absolute best. They are all unique and quirky and downright loveable and now I am going to tell you why…
Sabin Shepherd invades Blythe’s life one early morning. It starts off when he waltzes in, steals her coffee, causes a scene, acts like a crazy person, and makes Blythe feel something for the first time in a long time and I am not talking anger over the stolen coffee here people. I am talking about something akin to friendship. Just being around Sabin makes Blythe feel just a sliver of normalcy and she knows from the very beginning that she’s found herself a forever-friend.
After her weird encounter with Sabin, Blythe finds herself at the beach. While there, pondering life’s greater mysteries and tragedies, Blythe spots a boy and as we all know, spotting a boy on the beach is where all of the ooey gooey feelings begin. Christopher Shepherd is a beautiful boy, hiding a terrible past, and Blythe soon feels an instant connection to. Just a forewarning to all of you: Christopher = ALL OF THE SA-WOON! Anyways… Blythe spends the day with Christopher, enjoying his easy company, the way he makes her feel all of the feelings (good and bad), how he seems so familiar, the way that he is oh so easy on the eyes, and how she feels comfortable enough to open up to him about her parents. Before long, Blythe is thrust into the Shepherd family, finding herself surrounded by friends for the first time since her parent’s death.
Christopher and Blythe form a unique relationship. There is an obvious attraction and connection between these two from the very beginning and being comfortable with one another in a way that neither person has experienced before only adds to it. But with Blythe’s not-so-secret past and the fact that Christopher is hiding something dark about his, these two start off sort of together without really being together. Lines defining their relationship are blurred and crossed and downright ignored more than a few times but regardless of where they stand romantically, Christopher saves Blythe in nearly every way. He is there for her when she breaks down. He holds her when she needs to cry, is there for her when she gets her life back on track, helps her to form a relationship with her brother again, and smiles with her when she experiences happiness again. He’s just there and for Blythe, that’s what she really needs. Didn’t I tell you he was worth all of the sa-woon? But wait, because it gets better…or worse, depending on how you look at it.
Christopher is what I like to call beautifully broken. He is so strong, put together, sweet, unbelievably steady, loyal to a fault, full of love and passion that it’s almost hard to detect that there’s something not quite right going on with him. Behind that perfect exterior, Chris is hiding pain, tragic memories, guilt, and a weight on his shoulders that is nearly dragging him down. It is because of this that I love Christopher even more. He feels like he is unworthy of the happiness and love that Blythe offers him but his story proves otherwise. This boy deserves all of the love and all of the happiness in the world.
The rest of the characters prove to be just as complex and vital to this story as Blythe and Christopher are. The Shepherd siblings are there for Blythe during her time of need. The numbness wears off and it’s like she’s experiencing her parent’s death all over again. Being around these people makes her feel alive again and with truly being alive comes ALL of the feelings. Sabin’s crazy, wacky, hilarious personality and never-ending friendship helps her get through a lot of the tough times. Eric’s quiet, steady, easy-going personality gives Blythe a sense of calm whenever she is around him. Hanging around tough-girl Estelle gives Blythe a little bit of sass and quite the potty mouth. Christopher, along with all of his siblings help save Blythe. She was drowning and then this family swooped in and saved her with their closeness, quirkiness, and friendship.
However, these characters share, at least a little bit, of the darkness that lingers in Christopher’s past. It started out with Blythe being the one who was drowning in a world of pain but the Shepherd family find themselves going under too and Blythe has to step up and save them. Learning about what all of these characters went through, Christopher in particular, absolutely broke my heart. I first saw them as this happy, loving family and when I saw the pain they were masking, I just wanted to hug it all away from them.
No one wants to see characters they love go through crippling, tough times. And the things is, I truly love all of these characters, but this story wouldn’t be the same without all of the pain that each and every one of them go through. I was able to see how strong, brilliant, and capable of happiness that Blythe was. I saw her go from this shell of a girl to a girl so full of love for her family and friends. I was able to watch as Christopher stood behind Blythe in her time of need, ran away when his pain became too much, and then finally learn to accept the love that Blythe had for him. As for the other Shepherd siblings, seeing them change from this vibrant group of people to broken and lost individuals shattered my heart. But experiencing situations like what these characters went through, and surviving the pain that comes along with it, shows just how strong and resilient all of them characters were.
I guess what I am trying to say with this mess of a review, is that Jessica Park will crush your freaking spirits with Left Drowning. You will feel absolutely torn through most of this book. She will make you bawl like baby, want to throw the book across the room and then maybe stomp on it, you will probably resort to eating 5 spoonfuls of cookie dough to make the pain go away, and it’s likely that you will use an entire box tissues but in the end none of that will even matter. Every heart-shattering, crushing, breaking minute will all be worth it because the end result is just so freaking perfectly imperfect, beautiful, and just right that none of that other stuff will even matter.
Jessica has her own Spotify playlist for this book and it is remarkable (you can find it here) but as I’ve stated in my review, I had such strong feelings about this book days and days after reading it, that I needed to focus those feelings elsewhere. I decided I would put together a playlist of songs that I felt fit the book as a whole, certain characters, and even specific moments in the book. You can check out the Spotify playlist down below. If you’ve had a chance to read Left Drowning, be sure to let me know what you think of the playlist! I’d love to hear what songs you would pair with the book!