The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander


Soooooooooooooooo. This book. It was a tad confusing? Not in its plot or anything; it wasn't that it didn't make sense. It's confusing because I want to say good things to say about it, and I felt relatively good while reading it, but now that I've completed it and it's marinated in my brain juices, I don't. I don't have too many positive insights. So confusing encompasses that.

The plot description of the novel is "accurate" but it isn't correct in the feel of the novel. It paints it to be about a girl who's discovering herself and her past through freediving, but it doesn't read like that. It reads like a girl who's drowning in herself and past in every way, and sometimes she goes diving. Similar, but not really. And I always struggle with books that diverge from their description--in a negative, erroneous way.

Since her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone. Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.

Elsie is...fine? I really need to stop starting all of my paragraphs with confused questions. She's fine. She is struggling with her twin brother Eddie's death five years prior, and the fallout. She's alone in a very true sense. Her parents are separating and oblivious to their kids and their pain and struggles; her older brother Dillion is dealing with his own issues. But her voice was so hard to get into. It just felt off. It was strained and awkward. The beginning (and the entire novel) wants you to feel heavy emotion, but you can't expect me to feel that when it's being forced upon me in an obvious way, and by in a poorly crafted voice. The voice got better throughout the story, but not in a grand way. Just slightly. She had a great journey, though, with tremendous growth.

The shining star of this novel was Dillion, Elsie's brother. I would have rather read his story than hers. He's dealing with a tremendous amount of guilt and sadness over his younger brother's death, and he puts an insane amount of stress on himself to succeed--to make up for his past mistakes that no one knows about. This causes him to become anorexic. I've never been happy to read a story about an anorexic teenager, but I was supremely glad that this story included an anorexic male, because it's something that is so rarely depicted. Bravo, Sarah Alexander. It was the part of novel that felt so natural, so unforced, so thoughtful and thought-provoking.

The romance was kind of a disappointment. Tay is a flighty "bad boy" and I just wasn't into it. And at one point he grabs her breast and then bolts like a paragraph later. SIGN ME UP FOR THAT! So yeah, I struggled with their relationship because I wasn't feeling her and I wasn't feeling him. And you can't really give a shit whether or not a couple gets together if you don't care about the people in the couple.

But I need to take a second to take about the "reveal" of this story. Because it was kind of dumb. So if you don't want spoilers for this book: LOOK AWAY NOW!

The big "reveal" is that her brother Dillion, Tay and Danny (one of Tay's homies) were involved in the aftermath of Eddie's drowning. They happened upon his dead body and there was a kerfuffle, and the body was washed back out into the ocean. They never said anything to their parents or the police because it could have looked like they were responsible for the death. And then they promised each other that they would never tell anyone. Five years later, the guilt has been eating them all up inside and ruining their relationships and blah blah blah. It was supposed to be dramatic and intriguing, and it was, but it wasn't at the same time. It felt too dramatic in a thriller way, not in a realistic contemporary way. And this secret affected not only them, but everyone in the story, who all desperately needed closure. As the story ends, now everything is out in the open, but in all reality, it never needed to hidden away.

The writing is very amateur. I can't think of a single sentence or scene or paragraph that was really well written or that made me stop and think or reread. I just slogged through it. As I stated earlier, the voice was really off, and that made the whole writing of the story feel inadequate.

Like I said, this turned out to be a pretty negative review. And though there were so things I really liked, and some scenes that I thought were really powerful, most of the time it was fine. And that is a huge disappointment.

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