"I lost it once and slapped my girlfriend. That's it."

Alex Flinn. Breathing Underwater. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001.

external image breathingundercover.gifReview
High school can be rough for anyone, but for sixteen year old boys it’s about impressing the girls. Most sixteen year old boys get excited about getting their driver’s license and finally getting the independence they’ve been waiting for but in Alex Flinn’s, Breathing Underwater, Nicholas Andreas has one thing on his mind…Caitlin McCourt, his escape from reality. Nick is the student who everyone believes has it all together because he is smart, popular and wealthy. Little do they all know that he has a big secret about his father and his violent temper and when he and Caitlin start dating, Nick’s true colors begin to show. He uses Caitlin as an escape from his father, but that all ends up badly when he becomes controlling and abusive with her just like his father is with him.
Flinn's novel exemplifies abusive relationships, both in teenagers and between a parent and child. Not only does she give the audience a realistic, horrifying glimpse into an abusive relationship, she also exposes the truth about the cycle of violence, showing that abusers are almost always the recipients of abuse at some point in their lives. Though Breathing Underwater covers issues that are controversial and difficult to deal with, it shows young adults how easy it is to get stuck in an abusive relationship. Being controlled, put-down, and insulted by your significant other (as Caitlin was) is a difficult situation from which to break free, but perhaps after reading Flinn's novel, students will be able to more easily identify abuse in their own relationships and stop the cycle of violence before it goes too far.
Though Breathing Underwater cannot be read light-heartedly, it offers teens subtle advice on how to overcome being an abuser or a receiver of abuse. However difficult it may be to cover issues like violence and abuse in a classroom setting, it is beneficial to everyone in the class and makes Flinn's Breathing Underwater a worthy read.

Recommendations for Teachers
Teaching Breathing Underwater could be a challenge, however very influential to high school students. The subject matter could hit very close to home to some students. In the classroom, journaling could be an assignment just as it was for Nick in the book. This could be a good way to get high school students related the book and also get them in touch with issues in their lives as well.
The teacher should focus on character differences, and hold discussions about how each character's home life and relationships affect who he/she is. Questions such as "How do Tom's/Caitlin's/Nick's parent(s) affect the way they act and react to the situations in their own lives?" could prove useful to discuss the way parental relationships play such a large role in determining what kind of person the child becomes.
Dramatization is a very useful tool for dealing with issues as difficult as teen violence. The teacher can come up with different scenarios and have students act out the different reactions from characters in the book. The teacher must be sure to vary the scenarios and cover topics in a teenage relationship as well as what goes on at home between parents and children.
Teachers covering material as emotional and realistic as this should be prepared to look inside the lives of their students and be able to deal with issues that may arise. Teachers should also make their students feel comfortable to come to them with any issues about their lives outside of school. Teachers should make information and resources about dealing with violence very easily accessible to his or her students.
There are also many programs schools can get involved with to help break the vicious cycle of violence among teenagers. There are a few links attached below pertaining to this issue of teen dating violence, and how to stop it in its tracks. It gives teachers, as well as administrators, the tools they need to help reverse the growing number of teens who are in abusive relationships.
About Alex Flinn
Alex Flinn
Alex Flinn

Born in the small town of Long Island, New York, Alex Flinn has been a reader and a writer since the ripe age of five years old. Flinn began writing more often when she was in middle school in Miami, Florida. However, she never actually finished a novel until many years later. After high school, Flinn attended the University of Miami to study opera and after graduation, went on to law school.
It was during her legal and volunteer work with battered women that Flinn was introduced to the horrifying truths of abuse. After seeing tragedy unfold in front of her at the shelter where she volunteered, she did extensive research on counseling and abuse and decided to draft a novel to expose what goes on in the relationships of abusive adolescents. Though she began the novel in college, it was not finished until after the birth of her first daughter. Because of its truthfulness and harsh reality, Breathing Underwater has received overall a very positive response.
Flinn is also the author of several other novels, including Cloaked, A Kiss in Time, Beastly, Diva, Fade to Black, Breaking Point, and Nothing to Lose.
(Portions of biography taken from www.alexflinn.com and biography.jrank.org)

Multimedia (Video or Audio)
"Teen Dating Violence" video, to get a feel of what teen dating violence is like.

Additional Resources:

--Natalie Klocko, Caitlin Dunn, and Cami DenHartigh.