Drowned cover
“The First Time She Drowned” by Kerry Kletter. Speak (an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC), 2017. 352 pages. $11.

It’s common for most siblings to grow up in a household where family life isn’t always perfect. Brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, quarrel and rebel. Usually, these times of tension and anxiety ease after family members learn how to communicate. That’s one step toward establishing trust and closer ties. Just because there exist moments of misunderstandings, confusion and temper tantrums no matter the ages doesn’t mean love is nowhere to be found.

But, try telling this to “Cassie O’Malley,” now 18, who has competed for her mother’s love and attention since childhood. Cassie is the central character in “The First Time She Drowned,” and she has a right to feel tremendously betrayed by her mother.

Kerry Kletter should receive an award for writing this, her first novel. She is one of few novelists who expands on the subject of mental illness, including physical, emotional and verbal abuse, the dysfunctional family, benefits and failures of the psychiatric institution, the need for true friendship and self-acceptance.

Once readers begin to explore and prepare themselves for the next heartbreaking jolt or pause between episodes of brutal acts and acts of kindness, they will come to the conclusion that there isn’t anything simple about why people hurt others and why members of one’s own family turn traitorous.

One thing is obvious, and in Cassie’s situation, it involves her trying to cope with her mother’s mental illness. It isn’t until years pass when she discovers that her mother’s unpredictable nature — her fondness for Cassie’s brother, Matthew, her cruelty in making Cassie feel invisible, unworthy, fat and ugly, her wish for Cassie to be…