Cassie O’Malley has spent the past two and a half years in a mental institution — dumped there by her mother, against her will. Now, at 18, Cassie emancipates herself, determined to start over and reclaim her life. But when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is the truth, and whose life must she save?

A bold, literary story about the fragility of family, forgiveness, and learning to love oneself, The First Time She Drowned reminds us that we must dive deep into our pasts if we are ever to truly understand ourselves and move forward.


"Beautiful and passionate . . . [Kletter is] a writer of great distinction and infinite promise." — Pat Conroy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and South of Broad

"Kerry Kletter’s The First Time She Drowned is the kind of book I love best—a lovely and haunting keep-you-up-all-night heart-wrencher that is both beautiful and raw, painful and uplifting. It’s utterly amazing. An incredible read. Be warned though—you will want to read Cassie’s story, start to finish, in one sitting. And then you will want to race to put it in the hands (and hearts) of everyone you know and love." —Jennifer Niven, New York Times bestselling author of All the Bright Places

"The First Time She Drowned is an exquisite and masterful dive, a brave exploration into the complexities of family, and the saving grace of friendship. Kletter’s writing is hypnotic, her characters alive, her story tragic, beautiful, hopeful. Simply put, this book is stunning." —David Arnold, critically acclaimed author of Mosquitoland

"The best writers are able to tell the most difficult stories with the most empathy, and that’s just what Kletter does in this haunting debut about a girl lost in the depths of her family’s secrets and shame. Complex, affirming, and beautifully written." —Stephanie Kuehn, author of the Morris Award-winning Charm & Strange

"Sentence by sentence . . . one of the most lyrical novels I’ve ever read. Haunting and exquisite." — Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything

"Gorgeous, sumptuously lyrical, luminous…a feast for lovers of language. The First Time She Drowned singlehandedly shatters every argument that YA books aren't fit fare for adults." — Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King