Scott Bly in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
THE FIRST TIME SHE DROWNED is every bit as “lyrical,” “complex,” and “hypnotic” as the galley blurbs proclaim. And while Kerry Kletter’s debut YA/adult crossover novel is all of those things, it also serves as an introduction to the world of mental illness and a broken mental health system. Kletter’s book is especially important in a political climate that sidesteps discussions of gun violence by demonizing mental illness. The stigma of mental illness is real, and Kletter’s novel shines a bright and unflinching light into the mind of one young girl as she passes through a minefield of self-doubt following her release from a two-year commitment to a mental hospital.
Cassie O’Malley, the novel’s protagonist, turns 18 at the beginning of the story, which is told in present tense. Cassie is bright, a headstrong and mischievous (but ultimately unreliable) narrator. Turned loose from the institution where she has been held against her will since her mother had her committed for an undisclosed reason (the details of which unfold in flashbacks), Cassie is understandably fixated on her narcissistic parent and her withheld maternal love. The mystery of the circumstances surrounding Cassie’s commitment are revealed layer by layer as the “whodunit” of her mental state unfolds. I devoured the book, surprised at the sharp character insights and observations of the world. The dual-timeline narrative kept the pages turning right up until the climactic reveal and optimistic resolution.