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The First Rule of Swimming

Official Stuff –

Author – Courtney Angela Brkic

Pages – 336

Publisher – Little, Brown and Company

Summary –

A woman must leave her island home to search for her missing sister-and confront the haunted history of her family.

Magdalena does not panic when she learns that her younger sister has disappeared. A free-spirit, Jadranka has always been prone to mysterious absences. But when weeks pass with no word, Magdalena leaves the isolated Croatian island where their family has always lived and sets off to New York to find her sister. Her search begins to unspool the dark history of their family, reaching back three generations to a country torn by war.

My Rating – 3 ¾ Stars

*I received a digital copy of this novel from Netgalley on behalf of Little, Brown and Company*

Magdalena has lived in the Croatian island of Rosamarina her whole life, except for one year as a child and when she went to university. Her father died when she was a child and her mother, left her with her grandparents on the island. She’s very quiet and reserved and has no desire to ever leave the island.

Her younger sister, Jadranka, has an easy smile and fiery red hair and flits from place to place. She eventually lands in America, acting as a babysitter for a cousin that immigrated to the states as a child. She’s a talented artist and her American cousin, Katarina has promised to show Jadranka’s art in her gallery. But Jadranka has disappeared. No note, no call, no nothing. Disappeared in the night without a trace after slashing a self-portrait to pieces.

Magdalena is worried. Jadranka has disappeared many times over the years but has always kept in contact with her sister. She packs her bags and heads to America to search for her sister, leaving her grandmother to deal with her dying grandfather.

The grandfather, Luka, has suffered a stroke and is lying in bed unable to speak or move but remembering the days of war and how his sister left the island with him to be a soldier. How his son had to run away to America because of government agents wanting to throw him in prison for being a radical. The things his daughter did that screwed up her life and what she did to try and protect her only brother.

As Magdalena searches for her sister, she unravels family secrets that have been kept from her since she was a child. Secrets that Jadranka may have discovered and that may have fueled her need to disappear.

The book was beautifully written. You can picture the fictional island of Rosmarina perfectly and the emotions of the characters are very real. The bond between the sisters is strong and you can feel the distress of Magdalena as she tries to locate her sister. The book starts out slow, building up to the secrets and flipping between past and present.

The book is a bit heavy. Ok, a lot heavy. It took me awhile to really get into it and even then I had a hard time. The story travels through time and point of view in a sentence and I found myself having to reread sections to understand whose view I was seeing from and what time period it was.

You don’t get to see from Jadranka’s point of view a lot and I felt like she was a bit of a selfish brat, disappearing without notice and making family worry and travel across the world to find her. I understand the shock of the secret she discovered but still, not cool dude.

Overall the book was good but the pacing was off and the change of time and POV without any kind of warning/notice was annoying. I recommend if you like heavy family oriented stories with dark secrets.

The First Rule of Swimming