Family secrets cut to the bone in this mesmerizing debut novel about a teen whose drug-addicted brother is the prodigal son one time too many.
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.
Learning Not to Drown Chapter 1: Family Skeleton NOW Skeletons don’t like to stay in closets.
Most families try to lock them tightly away, buried beneath smiles and posed family pictures. But our Family Skeleton follows me closely with his long, graceful stride.
I guess people in my town think they have a pretty clear picture of Skeleton. Their whispers have haunted me most of the seventeen years of my life, stalking me almost as closely as he does: prison, prison, prison. Shame, shame, shame.
They don’t see him like I do. His eye sockets expand and shrink. His cartoon jaw morphs from smiles to frowns, from serious to surprise. He’s at least six feet tall, and when his bones stretch, he can dunk a basketball without his big toe coming off the ground. He’s quite talented.
When he wants to relax, he lounges in a silk smoking jacket with a Cuban cigar and drinks brandy from a warm snifter. He might have a drinking problem, but I don’t want to be presumptuous.
I think Mom, Dad, Peter, and Luke see Skeleton clearly. After all, they are my family. Although I can’t be sure, since Mom and Dad rarely talk about him, and Peter leaves the room whenever he appears.
Skeleton is the constant reminder of the crimes committed by my brother Luke. I’m used to Skeleton’s taunts, his lanky fingers pointing, the click of his bones when he cartwheels across the room. I’m used to him reminding me he will always be a part of my life story. He will always be there to warn that every action has a reaction, every crime has a consequence.
And the more he hangs around, the more my reputation decays.
Skeleton didn’t always exist—our family photo album shows me what reality was like before he started to appear. But I was too young then to own that memory now, a pre-Skeleton memory. My reality, my memories are like spinning pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that never make a complete picture.
And I can’t help but think, maybe, if Skeleton would go away, we could have perfect again.
Anna Shinoda was raised in a mountain town so small it lacked a stoplight. She used to escape into the high branches of trees to read and dream stories, out of reach from her own family skeleton. Eventually she climbed down with Learning Not to Drown, her debut novel. Visit Anna at AnnaShinoda.com.
"Learning Not to Drown is a courageous, nuanced, and accurate look at the struggled faced by families living with incarcerated loved ones. Anna Shinoda's deeply informed story is not to be missed." - Dr. Drew of Loveline, HLN, and Celebrity Rehab