How Not To Drown

Alcove. May 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781643855578. $27.99. F
When her father drowns under suspicious circumstances, and her mother is sent to prison for her role in his death, 12-year-old Heaven moves in with her grandmother Amelia and her uncle Daniel, who has agoraphobia and never leaves his room. As the child of two people with drug addictions, Heaven is used to fending for herself, and she struggles to adapt to Amelia’s structured environment. Her uncle Daniel, though, entertains Heaven by telling her Scottish folktales through the shared wall between their bedrooms. Despite finding a niche on the school’s swim team, Heaven is bullied by her classmates. She finds little sympathy from her grandmother, until a jarring event startles Amelia into finally taking stock of her life. This quirky saga, told from various first-person perspectives, delves into the sudden onslaught of grief and regret heaped upon a dysfunctional family. Notwithstanding a disruptive historical thread and a mild paranormal element, Wriston’s book is a poignant, if offbeat, portrait of a family struggling to cope with tragedy as a unit.
VERDICT Though a bit overly ambitious, Wriston’s (Vanishing Acts) novel contains strong characterizations that carry this peculiar family drama to an unpredictable, but apt and positive conclusion.
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