Book Review: The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water by Erin Bartels

  • Title: The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water
  • Author: Erin Bartels
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Christian Fiction, Women’s Fiction
  • Would I recommend: If you’re looking for a novel that’s mostly a clean read, with an engaging style of writing, this may be for you.


When Kendra Brennan moves into her grandfather’s old cabin on Hidden Lake, she has a problem and a plan. The problem? An inflammatory letter from A Very Disappointed Reader that’s keeping her from writing her next novel as long as its claims go unanswered. The plan? To confront Tyler, her childhood best friend’s brother–and the man who inspired the antagonist in her first book–in order to prove to herself that she told the truth as all good novelists should.

What she discovers as she delves into the murky past is not what she expected. Facing Tyler isn’t easy, but facing the truth of her failed friendship with his sister, Cami, may be the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.

Award-winning novelist Erin Bartels searches the heart with this lyrical exploration of how a friendship dies, how we can face the unforgiveable, and how even those who have been hurt can learn to love with abandon. 

My review:

I’ll start with what I liked about the book.

Erin Bartels’ writing style is beautiful. It flows over the page like water, and she creates gorgeous imagery with her words. In that regard, the book was very easy to read. The device Bartels used, having Kendra address Cami, her former best friend, as if writing a letter to her, was an interesting technique. Bartels also writes fully imagined characters. Kendra, Jackie, Tyler, Cami, they all have baggage and motivations that drive their actions. I could see, as the story progressed, why they were the way they were.

I appreciate, too, that Bartels wasn’t afraid to tackle a difficult topic like sexual abuse. Seeing how Kendra deals with what she experienced as a child at Tyler’s hands and how she finally finds the courage to confront him as an adult may be helpful and healing to those who have suffered in similar circumstances.

Now for what really didn’t resonate with me.

The synopsis of this book intrigued me. A writer isolating herself to write a second novel, and having to confront the demons of her past to move forward? Sounds good! Being that it was marketed as Christian fiction, I was expecting some wrestling through the difficulties, some confrontation of what had hurt her, and someone finding redemption. I wasn’t sure if it would be our main character or the person who had hurt her or both, but I thought it would be there somewhere.

Alas, it was not to be. For supposedly Christian fiction, this book pointed very little toward Christ, or indeed, toward faith. There was a blessing at a meal, and I recall one passing mention of God. That was it. If Christian fiction isn’t your jam, you may be okay with that – in fact, it may draw you to read this book where you might not have otherwise. But it was a bit of a disappointment to me.

And while I loved Andreas as a character – he was a kind, gentle man, in direct opposition to the memories Kendra had of Tyler – the fact that he came into the story as the result of a misunderstanding and then just spent the summer at the lake with Kendra struck me as odd. Oh, hey, dude who’s here to translate my book, who I wasn’t expecting and don’t know. Sure, you can just sleep at my house while you do this work, with my bedroom that doesn’t even have a door. Ooooookay. Especially in light of Kendra’s previous experience with Tyler, that seems like a strange thing for her to be any kind of comfortable with.

To sum up, beautiful writing, beautiful lake setting that makes me want to visit Michigan, characters who are flawed and realistic – all positives. I was hoping for more clear references to faith and how the characters struggled and grew, though. I don’t regret reading the book, it just isn’t one I’m jumping up and down about.

Disclaimer: Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book. I was not obligated to write a review. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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