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Review: The Art of Not Breathing

The Art of Not Breathing - Sarah Alexander

Initially I got a copy from Netgally through one of those 'read it now for the first 500 members' emails. I also liked it so much I purchased a paperback copy.

Having been in a bit of a slump lately, I finally started some of my Netgalley books to find something to break me out of the slump, and book was one of them. I liked it immediately, particularly the voice of the main character Elsie. I also liked the small Scottish town setting. And the dialogue was well done without being over the top, it didn't try to talk in dialect other than some words thrown in every now and then which seemed like perfectly normal phrases for the setting without being annoying, so bonus points for that.


The novel tells the story of Elsie and her family who five years on are still struggling with the disappearance (and presumed death) of Elsie's twin brother Eddie. It deals with grief, denial, the parents are bickering a lot, Dad is supposedly insensitive to Mum's depression, there's hints of possible alcoholism, one parent possibly having an affair, Elsie has a problem with kleptomania, and to make things even worse, she discovers her older brother Dillon is hiding a dark secret and has a dangerous illness of his own. . 


Spoiler, but I still want to mention it, possible trigger warning: eating disorders.

Dillon has a nasty case of bulimia. I don't know why it never occurred to me, I never really thought of boys becoming bulimia, which I admit is probably very narrow minded.. Dillon's story is sad and eye opening. It did get graphic towards the end of the novel. But at least it was addressed and dealt with in what seemed to be a very honest and realistic way.

(show spoiler)


And while all this family drama is going on, Elsie herself has been having flashbacks of Eddie's disappearance, the family were at the beach, the kids were by the shore, Eddie disappeared and no one ever knew what really happened. Supposedly. Elsie and Dillon are supposed to avoid the water. Yet Elsie finds herself hanging out near the shore at a boathouse with a pub attached where she meets a boy, Tay, and as they get to know each other Elsie becomes involved with him and his friends and freediving as well. Turns out when she’s underwater, she gets flashes of memory from what happened the day Eddie disappeared.


Elsie and Tay’s attraction is well written, not insta love, and they develop a friendship progressing to more in a belieavable way. Added in more drama with Elsie’s schoolmates, Elsie is a loner, she has a few confrontations with the local mean girl and her clan. They do a few stupid things back and forth but in spite of a few (and excepted, they’re teenagers after all) set backs, Elsie seemed to handle herself in a likeable way, that wasn’t always mature, but completely understandable given her circumstances and the emotional backlash from everything going on.


All coming to a dramatic conclusion and a well written conclusion. Not a perfect one, but a believable one. Overall, an exceptionally well written novel with difficult themes and a great cast of characters.


Thank you Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers.