Breathing Underwater: Book Characters & Quotes

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

In this lesson, we will get to know the characters in Alex Flinn's novel 'Breathing Underwater.' We will explore quotes from the novel while learning about 16-year-old Nick Andreas, his strained relationship with girlfriend, Caitlin, and their clique.

Nick's Diary

Sometimes it's easier to understand our own faults when we can see them reflected in others. At least that's what 16-year-old Nick Andreas learns in his court-ordered anger management class. With its themes of abuse and neglect, ostracism and forgiveness, Alex Flinn's award-winning novel Breathing Underwater (2001) will prove to be an engaging, emotionally-compelling and thought-provoking experience for high school readers ages 13+. Readers get to know Nick intimately through his first-person narration. The novel takes the form of his court-mandated diary. Judge Lehman hoped that, in writing a journal of the days that led up to Nick's assault on his girlfriend Caitlin, Nick might be able to reflect upon his indiscretion and come to terms with the demons that haunt him.

Nick and Caitlin

Nick Andreas, the protagonist and narrator, concentrates so hard on his image that he manages to shut out the people around him, even his closest friends. Nick narrates the opening passage of his diary, revealing the truth of his inner insecurities. 'So I concentrate, really concentrate, on making my face a mask. I'm good at that. People at school - my ex-friends, even Tom, who used to be my best friend - see me how I want them to.' Nick identifies as a rich kid. He's popular, smart, but inwardly very troubled.

Nick is head-over-heels in love with Caitlin McCourt. For him, their relationship summons the feeling of the corny lyric, 'you are the sunshine of my life.' He reveals in his diary, 'I have to have Caitlin. She's the only one who can silence the voices in my head.'

Signs of love and affection

But Nick doesn't allow others to see his true self - Not even Cait. One night, in a moment of reckless exhilaration, Nick loses control and slaps her. Cait no longer trusts him. His friends shun him at school. Nick can't understand what went wrong. He doesn't realize how much he takes after his own abusive father.

It's only later that he realizes how hard that blow had been. On the witness stand, the prosecutor asks probing and difficult questions like: 'Did he rape you? Was the sex consensual?' Cait responds, unable to confess that he might still love her. The slap was an indication to her that he doesn't. 'Nick and I. . . I loved him.' She finally confesses that she's afraid of him.

Cait had recently lost some weight, and her body image continued to be a source of her low self-esteem. When Nick lashes out at Cait in a moment of rage, his biting words hit her hard. In his diary, Nick reveals: 'I want to say I love you, I miss you. Instead, I whisper, 'Fat pig,' and move on.'

Students at Key Biscayne High

The novel revolves around Nick Andreas. He's a sophomore at Key Biscayne High, a fictional school in Miami-Dade County on the Southern tip of Florida.

Tom Carter has been Nick's best friend since they were little kids. But when Tom hears about Nick's abuse against Cait, he shuns Nick - and encourages others to as well. Nick is also friends with Saint (Patrick) O'Connor, Key Biscayne's 'Neanderthal star quarterback.' To Nick's surprise and dismay, Caitlyn warms up to Saint and they start dating.

Like Tom, Elsa also stands up to Nick. Elsa and Cait have been best friends for years. Nick doesn't try to hide his dislike for Elsa. To him, she's shabby, aloof, and unkempt. Elsa thinks Nick has a chip on his shoulder - and she's probably right.

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