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Literature / Breathing Underwater

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Breathing Underwater is a 2001 Young Adult novel by Alex Flinn.

Nick Andreas has received a restraining order from his ex-girlfriend Caitlin; he has to attend classes about domestic abuse and violence, along with about ten other men who have received similar sentences. The judge who sentences Nick also orders him to keep a journal about how things went sour between him and Caitlin, writing 500 words a week.


Alex Flinn later wrote a companion called Diva, about Caitlin transferring to a performing arts school. Lighter and Softer, showing Caitlin is not scarred for life.

Tropes for Breathing Underwater

  • Abusive Parents: Nick has an abusive dad who's a single parent. His mother abandoned them when Nick was a baby.
  • Adults Are Useless: At least, some family members are. Leo gets to drop the anger management class after he bribes his girlfriend's family to get her to drop the charges. It ends with both of them getting killed.
    • Leo's mother did nothing to stop her new husband from abusing her children. She didn't even take notice when one of her children got sent to the ER for swallowing pills.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Caitlin used to crush on Nick, wishing he would ask her out. When he finally did, however . . .
  • Bittersweet Ending: Nick never wins back Caitlin, and he realizes that he lost something with her. However, he manages to reach truce with his father, becomes friends with Tom again, and plans to make something of his life.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A few minor and major ones
    • A tragic, literal example in this case being Leo's gun.
    • Nick's poetry. Tom reads it and learns about Nick's abusive father.
  • Chew-Out Fake-Out: One dark example. After he learns that Nick has a condom, Nick's father offers him Scotch and celebrates.
  • Domestic Abuse: Why Caitlin ended up taking the restraining order, though Nick is in denial for a long time.
  • Driven to Suicide: Leo's brother in his backstory, Leo himself, after gunning down his girlfriend Neysa.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Played for drama. The reason why Nick beat up Caitlin? She performed on stage after her told her not to, thinking people would laugh at her.
  • Heel Realization: Nick realizes that he is a domestic abuser, after witnessing former anger management classmate Leo verbally abuse his girlfriend Neysa. Nick's father also gets one when Nick asks him, "How old were you when you left home?"
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  • Hit Me, Dammit!: Mario invokes this with Nick, and Nick reveals that he can control his anger around an authority figure. Thus, he has power over his temper. Becomes a part of Nick's Character Development.
  • Kick the Morality Pet: What Leo's stepfather forced him to do to his brother. No wonder Leo carries a gun around now, to protect himself from his stepfather.
  • My Greatest Failure: For Mario, this was pushing his pregnant wife out of a moving car, causing her to miscarry.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Nick to his father, after realizing he can block his father's punches now.
  • Missing Mom: Nick has no mother for this reason. Leo's mother is emotionally absent.
  • Pet the Dog: Several instances, though Nick is a rather Jerkass dog that undergoes Character Development.
    • At the end of the story, Nick's father buys him a new car, in his name, to replace the one that he sold at the beginning.
    • Nick's English teacher gives him a You Are Better Than You Think You Are speech, telling him that doing terrible things doesn't make him a terrible person. She also encourages him to submit his poetry to the school's literary magazine.
    • Tom wants to be friends with Nick again after learning how abusive Nick's father is.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Mario becomes one, stern but also understanding.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Nick becomes this during the novel, after Caitlin breaks up with him. He sneaks flowers into her locker on her birthday. He finally leaves her alone after Leo's death.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: Nick was "a mistake" that happened because his mother didn't use enough protection.
  • The Atoner: Nick becomes one after Leo shoots Neysa and kills himself. Mario also qualifies.
  • Troubled Abuser: Nick, along with the rest of his anger management group.
  • Truth in Television: This novel was inspired by Alex Flinn's work in domestic abuse cases.

Tropes for Diva

  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Caitlin's mother, at least in Caitlin's eyes.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Misty. She convinces Caitlin to perform a terrible song in auditions, and laughs about it to Sean off-screen. Gigi later would have kicked her butt for stealing Gigi's solo if not saddled with a broken leg.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Caitlin finally gets to show her mother that she is a talented singer, gets accepted into the New York summer program, and finds True Companions
  • Nick reveals that he's going to college in the Northwest, to get away from his father.
  • I Could A Been A Contender: Caitlin's mom feels this way; if she hadn't dropped out of college to have Caitlin, she could have finished her degree and become a fashion designer.
  • Lighter and Softer: You wouldn't think that a followup to a dramatic novel about Domestic Abuse would feature the quirks of a performing arts school.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Gentler than in the previous book. Caitlin finally has a civil conversation with Nick, and reveals she won't be scared of him. That allows them to part on good terms.
  • Springtime for Hitler: A variant. Misty convinces Caitlin to perform a song totally unsuited for her vocal range and training, so that Caitlin won't receive a solo in the holiday show. Although Caitlin bombs, however, her voice teacher manages to convince the show managers to give her a duet with Sean.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: Caitlin was the result of one.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Caitlin's mother starts dating a married man, believing that he will eventually leave his wife and children. He then laughs at her on a dinner date after an opera when she brings up the idea.

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