How to Breathe Underwater
Over half term, I loaned copies of How to Breathe Underwater to a student and a colleague. When they returned, both were full of praise for this collection of short stories.
I have been reading Orringer's tales over the course of several weeks, dipping in and out of them, savouring the poetry and tragedy. They are real life stories about girlhood and family and religion. They speak of universal truths, everyday emotions: love, anger, jealousy, hope. They are not bold or particularly dramatic, but the stories open your eyes and settle in your mind, staying with you long after you have finished reading.
Two stories in particular stood out to me. One is called 'Note to my Sixth Grade Self', in which the author recalls a childhood memory through a series of command sentences, such as, "On Wednesdays wear a skirt. A skirt is better for dancing." This language perfectly encapsulates the uncertainty and apprehension of childhood, as the protagonist negotiates her way through the drama of love and want. Characteristic of these stories is the feeling of not belonging - they are all stories about girls' need to fit in, always watching from the outside.
The other story that has stayed with me is 'When She is Old And I am Famous'. Here, Mira battles with jealousy and anger at her beautiful, popular cousin. Orringer's women are not flawless females, but realistic humans, full of the emotions experiences by so many young girls. This honesty is what makes these stories so enticing and universal.
How to Breathe Underwater offers young women the acknowledgement that growing up is not easy. Her stories deal with real experiences and emotions. They are a pleasure to read, gifting the reader with the feeling that everything is going to be ok.