Today on the blog I have the pleasure of reviewing Alyssa Herron’s gut wrenching novel Drowning Above Water. Split between past and present, Poland and the US, this unforgettable story has a power and potency that truly brings it to life. Suspenseful and socially relevant, this novel is perfect for lovers of character driven stories and thrillers alike.
Title: Drowning Above Water
Author: Alyssa Herron
Publisher: BooksGo Social
Publication Date: September 30, 2017
Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, General Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Themes: Family, Human Trafficking, Prostitution, Addiction
My Rating: 4.5/ 5
Drowning Above Water is the story of a troubled young girl, barely clinging to life. She is trafficked across the waters to America by her own mother in an attempt to save her life. Twenty years later, she becomes pregnant. She escapes in an attempt to save her own child’s life, to deliver her baby to a safety and love she never knew. If she can give a lasting goodness to an innocent life, maybe her own was worth the pain of living.
Be prepared when you dive into this one, akin to jumping into the deep end, Drowning Above Water has the ability to take your breath away. Without any sort of gentle introduction readers are plunged into the world of human trafficking, sex work, fear, and absolute control. Dark and twisty while simultaneously gritty and hopeful, Drowning Above Water is a tale of fortitude, determination, and survival. It’s filled with villains you can help but pity and heroes you might come to hate.
Malina turned out to be a truly conflicting character, but I love characters that make me debate myself rather than simply rave. While fundamentally broken in some ways, Malina is undoubtedly a complex, strong, and resilient character. Despite her addiction and captive situation, she never loses hope or the will to keep trying. I was floored, however, when the reason for her special treatment was revealed. Once the sadness set in I ended up feeling a touch of sympathy for both Grizella and Malina, but this is one of those scenarios where everyone’s a victim.
I was touched by Malina’s bravery, kindness, and her ability to cultivate relationships despite her situation and restricted contact with the outside world. The loyalty that she inspired from these people really spoke to the strength and quality of her character. And yet, I was equally appalled when she capitalized on the loyalty of Guin during her escape and Petyr in the doctor’s office. Like I said, she’s conflicting, but this isn’t the type of story where things are black and white.. almost everything occupies a place in a vast expanse of grey space and really challenges readers to question their stance on a great many things.
I really enjoyed the constant shifting between her past and present, and especially liked how the flashbacks didn’t follow any sort of chronological order. Instead, their organization in relation to present circumstances creates a delicate balance between drama and insight, and leverages every ounce from the power of hindsight. Often times the flashbacks correlate with events that occurred a few chapters back, leading to so really gratifying ‘ah-ha!’ moments and an absolutely gutting experience.
I actually never liked Petyr. He always came across as a bit of a lap dog, or a little bog in search of his mother… or any mother for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, my heart went out to him. Being trapped as the errand boy for a trafficking ring is no easy deal, especially not after all his loss and suffering, but I always found his lack of will and individual thought or desire to be infuriating. I get it, terrible situations breed broken people, but Petyr’s permanent denial and naivety just never seemed to fit or grow with his circumstances.
I was touched by his undying devotion to Malina, but was never able to fully comprehend the pull behind the attraction. I was saddened by how his story ended, but sadly in the real world stories are all to common. Perhaps it was the reality of his situation that resonated with me – I just didn’t want to accept it as true.
One of the best things about this book is that with little to date it on the pages, it takes on a mournful and timeless quality. Now add in the fact that the writing is both gripping and powerful, and you have a recipe for the type of book that sucks you in and just won’t let you go. It is emotive, evocative, and at times down right frightening. Honest and real, it is evident that all of the characters are based in actuality including those in the periphery like Guin, Abraham, Grizella, Beata, and Voy.
This is one that I absolutely have to recommend! It’s disturbing and often tough to stomach but it’s also poignant and beautifully written. The messages within are both deeply human and overwhelmingly compassionate despite the constant cruelty. Herron maintains a delicate balance between character development, adventure and thrill that is sure to appeal to a wide variety of readers. But get your tissues read, this one will rip your heart out.