Summary: Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive—first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then herself. But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school. When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside.
This story easily could have become maudlin or trite in less skillful hands, but in Reichardt’s sensitive telling, it is a deeply compelling tale of a teenage girl finding her way back from tragedy. Morgan hasn’t left her apartment for months – she can’t shake the terror of the shooting at her high school, where she had an encounter with the shooter himself that she can’t admit to anyone. Anxiety, PTSD, and more than a little survivor’s guilt have kept her trapped in her apartment, pushing away her friends. Then Evan moves in next door, sparking her interest and her desire to venture out again, and she begins to take baby steps – to the welcome mat, to the top of the stairs, to the post office on the corner. The reader feels the difficulty of every step along with Morgan, the fear of opening herself up to other people even as she grows to understand that it’s the only way she can heal. With the help of her therapist, Morgan is finally able to move outside of focusing on her own pain and sympathize with that of others – her friends, the alcoholic father who abandoned her, and even the shooter himself. This book handles the shooter with remarkable humanity, never excusing his horrible actions but going far beyond the paint-by-numbers villain treatment that so many books about violence offer as Morgan tries to make sense of his actions. Morgan is a sensitive, brave, caring character trapped in a horrible circumstance, and her story demonstrates all the resilience of the human spirit.
UNDERWATER is out now.