The First Time She Drowned explores the life of Cassie O’Malley, who has spent the last three years of her life in a mental asylum- for no reason. Elaborate lies created by her estranged mother keep her locked in, her only sanction being her best friend on the inside. When Cassie turns eighteen, her mother visits her for the first time in what feels like forever, and announces that she's paying for her to attend college. Cassie thinks this is the breakthrough she finally needed with her mom, but it's far from the truth. Realizing that her mom is only around to try and drag her under again (title pun), she has to make the heartbreaking decision over which one of them she will save.
A recurring theme throughout the book is Cassie's desire to forgive her mother, even though she has wronged her so many times. Her relationship with her mother, though proved toxic, was something she really cared about fixing. This makes the novel easier to connect to as a reader. The longing to forgive resonated with me strongly because I really understand wanting to forgive someone you shouldn't, and how hard it is to stop caring about someone you used to love.
Another theme that is brought up a few times is love. More specifically loving yourself instead of relying on the love of others. Cassie's struggle to connect with her mother and feel loved by her destroys her mental health during her youth. She learns that loving herself and allowing others to love her is what will matter in the end, and trying to make someone love her who isn't capable will hurt her in the end.
The First Time She Drowned is heartbreaking, but self realizing on its own. It showcases a girl chasing the relationship that has brought her the most pain, but brings the reader's attention to their own lives or loves.