The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander | Rating: ★★★☆☆
As a note, a printed galley of this novel was sent to me by the
publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not effect my
opinions in any way.
When I first heard about The Art of Not Breathing I knew that I had to read it. There was something I enjoyed about the vibe of the summary and I coveted it from the get go. I felt it had the potential to be all its own but also hit a similar vein like Sarah Dessen, Lurlene McDaniel and Gayle Forman. And who can resist such a promising plot? I felt right away I would need a tissue box on hand and I wasn't wrong.
But. Huge but. The Art of Not Breathing wasn't exactly what I expected it to be and while it was still solid, and I'd definitely recommend it, I couldn't help but to be a little uncertain about it. As a whole, I can't say if I'm going to ever be inclined to pick it up and read it again. But I will say that it is undeniably heartfelt and a breeze to finish. All you young adult lovers out there will devour this one quickly and it's readily on the list of summer reads.
Sarah Alexander hits a lot of good notes in her portrayal of loss--the loss of a twin, five years prior, no less--and mental illness. There are many trigger warns applicable to The Art of Not Breathing but not always in an overly graphic way. I daresay that Alexander knew what she was doing and did a solid when it came down to accuracy.
She puts so much strength and heart and heartbreak into this story that you really come out of it feeling a great deal towards it. The tragedy of losing a loved one is heavily present in the theme of the novel and I cannot stress how beautifully crafted the emotions were in this one.
Completely realistic. Elsie, our lead, isn't unlike the people we know in real life. She's deeply flawed and scarred from the past. She's beautifully real and striking in way that will keep you on your toes. Elsie is so very ordinary and while this may be a bit of a conflict, and she may grate your nerves or not always feel present, she is a solid character. I felt for her. She's so very 16 years old, you know what I mean? She isn't perfect. She just is.
Where Elsie is ordinary and has a very obtainable personality and will be relatable to many young girls, that's not where the importance ends. All of the side characters, the love interest included, have differences in personalities and struggles and it's a really great addition. It explores many things that aren't always touched upon properly in fiction and that's what makes The Art of Not Breathing good. I felt like there were points in time where it dragged on, but the moral of the story is that it's an important story to be told and isn't done lightly.
There were some awkward moments, though, and many times where I felt like things were too under developed. Sometimes, the writing seemed to go too quickly with very little detail and other times it felt... unexplained. I had a couple of moments that I absolutely adored and thought the detailing was FULL of so much life, and then Alexander would backtrack on it and leave things open ended. I did find that to be distracting and ultimately, that is why the novel isn't getting a much higher rating.
I loved the setting, too. Scotland isn't a location I get to read about often but when I do, I appreciate it immensely. And I liked certain plots and elements that I don't hear about often. There was a lot of physical activity in this that felt pretty great and lead a lot to the plot, tying the past and present into one and it was great to see it. I had a lot of interest and anxiety in equal parts when it comes down to the whole Free Diving thing--I'm terrified of heights and the idea of it all made my palms sweat, but it was still fascinating and fun nonetheless.
Overall, The Art of Not Breathing lands right in the middle of "liked" and "loved" and had its ups and downs but was still enjoyable. Would I read it again? I'm not sure. Would I recommend it to someone else? Yes, and no. Depending on the person. I thought it was a pleasant experience and hit on some hard truths, but also had its fair share of misses.