My first read of 2022, THE GIRL WHO COULD BREATHE UNDER WATER, reminded me why Erin Bartels is one of my favorite authors. If I could, I would give it more than five stars.

Kendra Brennan is crippled by self-doubt and writer’s block. Her debut novel, which fictionalized  teen trauma that continues to haunt her, has become a smash hit. But a letter from A Very Disappointed Reader has raised disturbing accusations, leading Kendra to question accepted truths about her own past.

Are her memories of certain events accurate, or has time distorted them? Can she discover the identity of her critic, who clearly knows something Kendra doesn’t? Kendra believes the answers lie in the place she’s avoided for years: Hidden Lake.

Running from her editor, her agent, her fast-approaching deadline, she returns to her family’s abandoned summer cabin, determined to confront Tyler, the antagonist in her debut. Maybe then she can finally move forward and start her second manuscript.

But coming back to the lake unearths more questions, especially when Kendra’s German translator arrives to work with her and makes keen observations about fact and fiction. Is Tyler dangerous? Where is his sister, Cami, Kendra’s estranged best friend? What really happened between them when they were girls? And is the death of their friendship the real demon Kendra must face?

The beautiful writing encouraged me to read slowly, savoring every sentence, but the intricately-woven plot pushed me to flip pages, desperate to know the truth about long-dead secrets. The unique structure immersed me further in those layers, with Kendra constantly stepping out of the story to address Cami in a one-sided conversation.

This is a powerful novel about learning to forgive the unforgivable and releasing the past to embrace the future. But above all else, it’s a thumping good read full of healing, heart, and hope. Buy it, and don’t skip the author’s note at the end.

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