Cover image of The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water

The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water by Erin Bartels – Book Review

One of my 2022 resolutions is to read 24 books this year. One of my February books is The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water by Erin Bartels. I enjoyed this book because it is about an author and discusses her writing process a good bit. While I haven’t yet written my novel, I have created stories since I was a little girl. I do write for a living as a content creator, publisher, and copywriter. So, I relate well to the main character, Kendra Brennan.

Plot of The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water

In The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water, Kendra Brennan is a new author who recently published her first novel That Summer. The novel was well-received, except by one “very disappointed fan.” The letter she received from this “fan,” disturbed Kendra so much that she faces a bad case of writer’s block. Yet, her next book is on deadline. Kendra finds solace at her grandfather’s cabin on Lake Michigan, where she spent her childhood summers and the setting of her first book. She knows she must confront childhood trauma, and perhaps the mysterious letter writer, to move forward.

Truth  has a way Quote from The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water

Characters in the Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water

Erin Bartels creates memorable and flawed characters. The protagonist, Kendra Brennan, is a young woman who questions who she is, the truth about her past, and if she can make it as a writer. Bartels uses internal dialogue to help the reader get to know Kendra as a girl and a young woman. Her fears and flaws and insecurities are what many women can relate to.

Andreas is the young German translator that her publisher sent to stay with her at the cabin so he can translate her book into German. He serves as a guide and an admirer who gently pushes Kendra through her writer’s block. He gains her trust and affection.

Tyler is the antagonist from Kendra’s youth and is the handsome, cocky, and dangerous adoptive brother of her childhood bestie Cami. He represents trauma for Kendra. The main character in her novel That Summer is based on Tyler.

Cami is an absent antagonist. She does not return to the lake that summer and no one has heard from her, but she becomes familiar through Kendra’s memories of the summers the two shared.

Robert is Cami’s father and was a mentor to Kendra growing up. An accomplished author, he encouraged Kendra’s writing over the years.

The Writing Style

Bartels has a beautiful writing style and an amazing ability to paint a picture with words. When Kendra finds Cami’s bracelet in the lake, I could see the gold and silver bracelet being pulled from lake bottom and shimmering as it is pulled through the water to the surface.

The Lesson in The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water

This is a multi-layered, coming-of-age story as much as a story of overcoming. I related her struggle to write her second novel to a fear of failure and insecurity. Yet as she faces her trauma, you see Kendra becoming stronger and more self-assured. There are triggers of sexual abuse and violence, but it is not overdone or distasteful. The book is a tale of flawed but also idyllic nostalgia. While her past holds pain, secrets, and missed opportunities, she also looks fondly on the lakeside summers and her relationship with a family that seemed more normal or privileged than hers.


I truly enjoyed reading The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water. It was thoughtfully and beautifully written and is a well-paced story with a good amount of tension, drama, and secrets to discover. I have had the opportunity to review other books by Erin Bartels, including The Words Between Us and We Hope for Better Things. I recommend adding both to your list.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell Books as part of the Revell Reads Blogger Tour. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”

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