Review: Girl Underwater by Claire Kells

Review: Girl Underwater by Claire Kells Girl Underwater by Claire Kells
Published by Penguin Group USA on March 31st 2015
Pages: 320
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Edelweiss

An adventurous debut novel that cross cuts between a competitive college swimmer’s harrowing days in the Rocky Mountains after a major airline disaster and her recovery supported by the two men who love her—only one of whom knows what really happened in the wilderness.

Nineteen-year-old Avery Delacorte loves the water. Growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts, she took swim lessons at her community pool and captained the local team; in high school, she raced across bays and sprawling North American lakes. Now a sophomore on her university’s nationally ranked team, she struggles under the weight of new expectations but life is otherwise pretty good. Perfect, really.

That all changes when Avery’s red-eye home for Thanksgiving makes a ditch landing in a mountain lake in the Colorado Rockies. She is one of only five survivors, which includes three little boys and Colin Shea, who happens to be her teammate. Colin is also the only person in Avery’s college life who challenged her to swim her own events, to be her own person—something she refused to do. Instead she’s avoided him since the first day of freshman year. But now, faced with sub-zero temperatures, minimal supplies, and the dangers of a forbidding nowhere, Avery and Colin must rely on each other in ways they never could’ve imagined.

In the wilderness, the concept of survival is clear-cut. Simple. In the real world, it’s anything but.


The first thing you need to know about this book: It isn’t as much a story of survival as it is a story about surviving survival. Yes, the aftermath of the plane crash is a big part of the story, but more prominent is Avery trying to figure out what comes after making it out of a huge plane crash alive. The book is told through a series of present narratives and flashbacks. Clearly, she has survived the crash, and we know from the start who survived with her (and you know, it says so in the synopsis).

So, I really liked this book, though I fully admit it isn’t perfect, which of course, I will talk about. But as always, let’s start with all the good, enjoyable things, okay?

What I Loved:

  • The Characters: I have to disclose some biases: Avery is a collegiate swimmer. As was I. Avery made choices based on what everyone else wanted her to do. As did I. So I may not have always liked Avery, but I sure as hell understood her. And I most definitely sympathized with her, because my goodness, she went through a lot. I mean, how can you not have empathy for “girl in plane crash turned girl stuck in wilderness”? She is far from perfect, but she is working through a very real case of PTSD, as you would. And Colin… Colin is everything. He is like, my second-in-line book boyfriend. I adored Colin. He was kind of an old-soul type, and I just want one of him for myself.
  • The Relationships: There were many, many relationships in this book that were explored. From Avery’s often strained relationship with her parents and brothers, to her newfound, fumbling relationship with the boys she helped rescue, to her college boyfriend Lee, to her very uncertain relationship with Colin, there was a lot of exploration into how these relationships changed as Avery changed. And really, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Swimming: Like I said before, this has swimming in it, which admittedly is what drew me to it in the first place. Because swimming was my entire life for a good 14 years. And Avery’s too, as it happens. The best part is, the swimming stuff is very accurate, which is super rare in books. Upon visiting the author’s blog, I am not at all surprised that she swam too. (Since I am insanely devoted, and myself a distance swimmer, I do have to say- at the collegiate level, they’d be doing the 1650, not the 1500. But um, none of you will notice or care about that.) Anyway, the accuracy impressed me, but more importantly, it had me very much in the story, because I knew exactly how Avery was feeling. Down to that crappy moment when you have to get in the too-cold pool and would rather visit the dentist or something.
  • The Survival: I love a good survival show. Like ones on The Discovery Channel, where people somehow survive against all the odds? Yeah, that is what this is like. I mean, surviving a plane crash is impressive enough, but then to have to fend for yourselves (and your injuries) while you hope for rescue? Well, that is a whole new level of intense!
  • The Plot in General: Yes, the survival aspect was great, but it was just a part of the plot. There was so much more, so much of Avery’s evolution and recovery, so many lives impacted, so much that happens after the fact, that even though we know she makes it out of The Rockies, there’s definitely plenty going on to keep the book interesting.

My one qualm:

  • Here’s my only real problem with this book: The beginning felt a little rushed, and perhaps not as authentic as it could have been. I never got the emotion during the plane crash aftermath. I assume that during the actual crash, adrenaline takes over, so that isn’t what I mean. I mean when that wears off, and the victims have time to process, and shock sets in. I guess I just kind of hoped to connect more to those scenes of the book, especially since they did set the stage for the entire thing.

Bottom Line: The initial problem aside, I really loved this book. Do I think it was partially because of my connection with Avery and swimming? Probably, but I do know that it certainly wasn’t the only reason I loved this book. The obstacles, the relationships, the characters, the survival, and Avery’s growth in general made this a book I absolutely couldn’t put down. 4hstrs

So… how would you be post plane crash, alone in the mountains? Are you helping save kids like Avery, or sobbing in the fetal position, which is what I’d be doing?

Also- Any other swimmers out there? Let’s talk swimming! 

Posted March 30, 2015 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in Review , / 15 Comments

15 responses to “Review: Girl Underwater by Claire Kells

  1. YES, you liked this book as well! I’m actually reviewing this tomorrow. The concept and plot was pretty fantastic – I had a problem with the ending though, it was a bit rushed and wholesome. I’m with you on sobbing though if I was stuck alone – I would probably be too busy being numbed than seeking actual survival, like it’s not real if I look for survival automatically you know? However, if I had a child with me, then I wouldn’t cry as much.. Wonderful review overall!

    • Ohh YAY! I kind of loved the wholesome, if I am being honest 😉 It was cute, and I figured Avery deserved it! I know everyone won’t agree, but meh, it made me happy 😀

      I wonder too, about having a kid with me- how that would change things. I mean, obviously I would take care of the kid, but there would be a LOT of outside-crying. A LOT.

  2. You succeeded on making me change my opinion on that book, congrats 😉 After a plane crash, if I were still alive, I’d probably be helping, organizing, stuff like that – not because I’m brave, I just have the capacity (curse ?) of compartmentalization and the crash would be in a neatly sealed box not to be ever opened again 🙂

    • Ohh yay! Have you read it, or have you just been considering it? You know, in truth, for some reason I HAVE been a bit of a voice of reason in a crisis. Which is odd, because in every day life, I am your basic mess 😉 So maybe I wouldn’t be as awful as I think. But I WOULD complain a lot.

  3. Love that it focuses on that, there’s a lot more to deal with after surviving something like that. I think I’d like Avery, from that, I don’t think I have anything on common with her, but you don’t have to like a person or have someone in common with them to understand them. Now, I really, really, want a Colin. GIVE ME A COLIN, UNIVERSE. It is interesting to see how the relationships change. Wasn’t really interedted in this (to be honest, I think I’ve only seen it around 5 times, tops) but need to check it out.

    I’d like to say I’d be like Avery, but I’d probably join you.

    • RIGHT, where are our Colins? And yes, Avery’s imperfections make her very relatable, plus, you kind of have NO idea how you’d react, so you almost can’t judge her, if that makes sense. And I don’t know WHY there has not been any hype about this book! It’s really good, and it’s published by a “big” pub, and has been on EW since like, August (when I requested it, because I saw swimming hahah). I really hope it gets more attention!

  4. HAHAHAH SWIMMING. Oh only you would notice that the 1500 event does not exist. Or does it? I’m 95% sure it doesn’t either. To be honest I think I would hate the swimming part of this book. It would probably bring about too many memories 😛

    Shannon you are crazy for swimming in college. Question: What was the most you’ve swam in a day? There was this one day in high school called Texas Ranger Day, which was basically swim as much as you can. I swam 18k yards total that day 😛

    • No, it DOES exist, but only in a meter pool. If the 400 free is being held, so too will the 1500. If the 500 is being held, in a yard pool, the 1650 will happen. They both suck HARD if you ask me. I loved the 500, but I never could quite get into the 1650. Too long, and my mind liked to wander. Of course, no one else wanted to do it so I got stuck with it, until I told my coach that the next time he made me swim it, I was doing the whole thing butterfly, and they could all sit there and wait for me to finish. True story, because he was kind of an ass, but also, he knew I would do it.

      And holy crap! 18k!? Jesus… no, probably the most I ever did in one day would be around 10k. In high school, our coach made us do 100x100s, and so if you finish them (which I did, on 1:30 and 1:20, but sadly not on 1:15. I made 77, and it was a sad day) you’d do 10k. Maybe a few times we had doubles it’d be 11 or 12k, but that was rare.

      I LOVE SWIMMING TALK. You made my day, Val.


        I haven’t had much experience with meter pools, except in the summers before high school. In high school everything was in yards and so yeah, I’ve never swam the 1500. Only the 1650. I usually just stuck to doing 100s on 1:30, but if there weren’t that many I could do them on 1:20 which isn’t that hard. BUT 100 OF THEM HAHAHAHA. Bleh. I don’t even want to remember my practices anymore. Then again 77×100 is only 7700 that’s not THAT bad. Maybe.


        • Well, I did all 100 on 1:30 and 1:20… but only 77 on 1:15, and I am clearly still bitter about it WAY too many years later 😉 I MISS SWIMMING. Even ridiculous stuff, like 500 Fly. (Okay, that might be pushing it…)

  5. I love survival books and I think it’s very interesting that this one focuses on what happens after. I’m used to reading books that are all about the surviving and then they get rescued(or die) and the end. So, that alone makes me really want to read this. And a character that gets put in your #2 spot for book boyfriends!? I must see what this is all about.

    Also, I’d be the person sobbing in the fetal position right next to you only my cries would be louder. =)

    • Yes, that is what I found most fascinating about this- we see the AFTER! ANd yes, I LOOOVE Colin. He made me so happy. I mean… GAH, I just adored him. I want to reread this book. I WILL reread this book, when I get a physical copy.

      Well, at least we’ll have each other while we freeze to death in our icicle tears 😉

  6. That sounds interesting. I haven’t read many survival books, but the ones I read were always captivating. I like the psychological aspects of survival, so that sounds like one for it. I also love swimming, though, I’ve never done it competitively.

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