First and foremost, I feel it necessary to give every trigger imaginable for rape, sexual assault and just assault in general for this beautifully dark book. “Drowning Above Water” is about a woman who first finds herself as a child prostitute when her addiction to pain medication drives her to do anything for her next fix, and then a victim of sex trafficking as her own mother pushes her into the arms of someone who whisks Teckla—now Malina—to the states from Poland where she stays for years. That is until she decides she will not be forced into having another abortion. She’s going to keep this baby, and do whatever is necessary to ensure its survival. “Drowning Above Water” is a seriously heavy read, and yet I couldn’t put it down. I devoured this book; I ached alongside Malina, Petyr, and Guin, and I was transfixed by Malina’s journey through the underbelly of the sex “industry”. This book is heavy, dark, and beautifully written, and it’s an important story that is, unfortunately, not fiction for many across the world.
If you aren’t too put off by those kinds of triggers, I highly recommend reading this story. Herron not only writes beautifully, but she handles a difficult topic with fearless skill. Not once does she try to sugar-coat what’s going on. The sex is not pleasant; everything is starkly honest, brutal, and heartbreaking the way you’d expect a book about sex workers to be. This is no “Pretty Woman”, nor does it ever pretend to be. Malina knows that if she does not save herself, she will die; she accepts death even, but she wants more for the fragile life growing within her. The book is uncomfortable, but that’s part of its draw, too. It never once tries to hide the ugly truth that is Malina and Petyr’s life.
While the scenarios and descriptions can be unsettling, perhaps one of the more uncomfortable—and amazing—aspects of the book is that it’s not black and white. Of course, there are certain characters that are rotten to the core and there is no hiding that. But there are others who you hate early on, that you label as the villain, only to learn that those characters themselves were abused and groomed for the positions they now occupy; they are just as trapped as Malina. Then there are some who you believe to be the innocents, the “good guys” in this story, only to learn that they aren’t so innocent, that they are just as wrong in their own way as those who hurt Malina initially.
Herron’s poetic writing and the real characters she’s crafted, along with her willingness to unmercifully punish them, had me feeling all the things as I tore through this book. In fact, the only thing that wasn’t always stellar about the novel was that sometimes the dialogue felt a bit like a translation even when two people were speaking their native tongue, but that’s it! For a debut book that is not easy to read because of the subject matter to have that as the only “critique”? Phenomenal. So, despite the numerous triggers present in this book, I’m giving it a well-deserved 5 stars! And thanks to the author for providing me with a copy for review.
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!