Book Review: “Learning Not To Drown” by Anna Shinoda


“Learning Not To Drown” by Anna Shinoda (2014)

Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary

Page Length: 352 pages (hardcover edition)


There is a pecking order to every family. Seventeen-year old Clare is the overprotected baby; Peter is the typical, rebellious middle child; and Luke is the oldest, the can’t-do-wrong favorite. To their mother, they are a normal, happy family.

To Clare, they are a family on the verge of disaster. Clare: the ambitious striver; Peter: the angry ticking time bomb; and Luke: a drug-addicted convicted felon who has been in and out of jail for as long as Clare can remember—and who has always been bailed out by their parents.

Clare loves Luke, but life as his sister hasn’t been easy. And when he comes home (again), she wants to believe this time will be different (again). Yet when the truths behind his arrests begin to surface, everything Clare knows is shaken to its core. And then Luke is arrested. Again.

Except this time is different, because Clare’s mom does the unthinkable on Luke’s behalf, and Clare has to decide whether turning her back on family is a selfish act…or the only way to keep from drowning along with them.

Debut novelist Anna Shinoda’s raw, gritty, powerful novel cuts right to the bone and brings to life the skeletons the lurk in the closet. (description from Goodreads)


“Learning Not to Drown” was a quick read, but a heavy novel that dealt with issues such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and prison. I don’t think I’ve read a book as heavy as this since reading “The Impossible Knife of Memory” by Laurie Halse Anderson last year. Though the topics are deep, the book was very enjoyable.

Shinoda takes her time with the story and characters as you start off the novel thinking Claire’s family is picture perfect, but as time goes on the threads unravel. We eventually start to see how Luke’s bad decisions take a huge toll on the family and relationships become strained.

I thought it was particularly clever how Shinoda wrote the character of “skeleton” who is always lingering around Claire almost every waking moment. He constantly makes snide commentaries on the sidelines, and makes sure she never forgets the bad things has happened.

I would go on and rant about a couple of things that things that certain characters did that infuriated me, but I know I like to make my reviews as spoiler free as possible since I really don’t want to ruin the story for others.

Final Verdict:

An intense YA novel that deals with family drama. I recommend this novel if prefer contemporary style stories. 4 out of 5 stars!


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