Perfecting THE ART OF NOT BREATHING–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA novel from Sarah Alexander. THE ART OF NOT BREATHING is a little bit romance, a lotta bit grief and healing, as the main character Elsie struggles with the disintegration of her family after the death of her twin brother.

The Art of Not BreathingAbout the book:
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.

My Review:
This is a well-written novel about a family slowly eroding following tragedy. It is set in the Black Isle of Scotland.

Five years ago Elsie’s twin Eddie was swept out to sea while they played at the beach for their 11th birthday. His body was never recovered, and her family has never recovered.

Eddie was a smaller child, and though chronologically 11 years old, he was far smaller than Elsie and not able to be educated in the school system due to developmental delays that may have stemmed from gestational issues or a birthing accident. He was several developmental years behind his twin, and Elsie defended him ruthlessly. They have an elder brother Dillon who witnessed some of the events on the beach that fateful day, but neither he nor Elsie, nor their parents, speak of it. Ever.

We start out the book on the eve of Elsie’s 16th birthday, with the family preparing for their annual memorial visit to the seashore to pay respects to Eddie’s cross. It’s all very emotional, and bitter, what with Elsie feeling forlorn for the loss of her twin, and the loss of her own celebrations. What she rarely admits to anyone is that she “hears” Eddie within her, and she speaks to him often. She wants to know what happened on the day of his drowning, but no one will ever speak of it.

As Elsie makes her way through she suffers horrible bullying, depression, and the knowledge that what remains of her family is disintegrating. Dillon’s got a girlfriend, but there’s something very off about him lately; he’s growing scarily thin. Her father spends as much time at work, or traveling for work, as possible, and her mother is a functional alcoholic.

During the course of the book we learn that Elsie loves spending time near the water, as it helps her feel close to Eddie. Eddie was a boy who loved the shore, and the dolphins, and Elsie creates a haven for herself at an abandoned boating club–which is now being refurbished by Mick, his son Danny and nephew Tay. They want to run scuba tours and freediving classes. Elsie has been continually warned against going into the water, but her rebellious side allows her to be goaded into it–and there she experiences flashbacks of that fateful day.

Driven to determine the full truth of the horrors of Eddie’s final moments, she begins to train with bad-boy Tay, and eventually the mean and enigmatic Danny, so that she can make deep freedives into the inlet where Eddie drowned.

It’s a really fascinating look at the way loss changes the dynamics of a family. There are so many converging problems: her father’s anger and withdrawal, her mother’s depression, her brother’s eating disorder. Elsie, in pseudo middle child form, feels a deep need to piece everything together. The emotions run high, and it’s a thrilling experience for Elsie to have the interest of a boy–for the first time ever. All her training for freediving alters her appearance, and gives her a different mindset–she aches to achieve a final communion with Eddie, and that was really poignant, if rather troubling.

I really related to Elsie’s determination, and understood her seemingly flighty nature. No one has seemed to care about her in a very long time, so why should she bother? And yet, she finds the strength to do so. She’s not a very admirable character, in many ways, but I felt that her faults were those of circumstance. She feels as if she’s a pariah, and she’s often treated that way. Tay is the one guy who sees her, not the Twin Who Lived, and that’s a refreshing experience for a girl who mostly fades into the shadows.

In all, the book was interesting, and I found myself rapidly turning the pages as the drama became more and more intense. Expect some super dark moments, and a renewed life for a girl whose seemed to end when her twin died. The ending is definitely upbeat.

Interested? You can find THE ART OF NOT BREATHING on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Sarah Alexander grew up in London with dreams of exploring the world and writing stories. After spending several years wandering the globe and getting into all sorts of scrapes, she returned to London to complete a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College in 2013. Previous jobs include: tomato picker, travel consultant, mental-health support worker and suitcase administrator. Now she works in publishing. Sarah lives in London with her husband and two chickens. THE ART OF NOT BREATHING is her first novel.

You can catch up with Sarah online on her website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends.

Harrowingly Real–LETTING ANA GO–A Review

Hi there! Today’s book is an “issue” book, which means it deals frankly and specifically with an issue. LETTING ANA GO is about anorexia and how one “normal” girl can fall into the deadly disease. Truth be told, I have people close to me who suffer eating disorders–and I saw the disordered thinking in their lives that this book portrays. It is chilling book without a happy ending. But it is an important book–for anyone to read. My opinion.

Letting Ana Go
About the book:
She was a good girl from a good family, with everything she could want or need. But below the surface, she felt like she could never be good enough. Like she could never live up to the expectations that surrounded her. Like she couldn’t do anything to make a change.

But there was one thing she could control completely: how much she ate. The less she ate, the better—stronger—she felt.

But it’s a dangerous game, and there is such a thing as going too far…

Her innermost thoughts and feelings are chronicled in the diary she left behind.

My Review:
This first-person journal-style book “tracks” the anorexic journey of a normal teen girl.

The narrator is a cross-country runner. Her coach has warned the team of eating disordered athletes and insists that all runners complete a food diary to ensure that they are eating sufficient calories to maintain their physical fitness. The narrator–I’ll call her “Ana” though she remains unnamed throughout–does this. She’s committed to her team and her success as a runner. Her BFF, Jill, is a ballerina. She helps Ana to find online/mobile app resources to track her food intake better. All is going well, though it is clear that Jill is showing signs of anorexia–she’s desperate to lose weight so she can get the lead in The Nutcracker.

Meanwhile, Ana’s father is a horse’s pah-toot. He lavishes attention on Ana, and ignores or fat shames his wife who is moderately overweight. Shortly into the journal we learn that he’s been having an affair and he leaves. Ana’a distraught at the collapse of her family–and has trouble eating, but the running helps stabilize her mood. She inadvertantly loses a few pounds–no worries. In fact, that’s great as far as she’s concerned because her mom is a fat mess and NO WONDER her dad left. The disordered thinking begins.

Ana goes on a trip with Jill and her family–with Jill’s older brother Jack showing all sorts of romantic interest. Is it because she’s lost weight? Jill’s mom thinks so. Her subtle comments and flawless appearance reinforce Ana’s thoughts that being thin is better. Meanwhile, Jill convinces Ana to drop her caloric intake in solidarity–so they can both lose weight together. Dropping more weight allows Ana to run faster times than ever. She’s promoted to captian of the cross-country team. Other friends become alarmed. Vanessa must just be jealous, right? No matter that Ana is lying about her food intake and having extra workouts to burn more calories….

Jill gets her dream role in the ballet. Her dad is pushing his new, slender, beautiful girlfriend in Ana’s face. Her mother balloons, drowning her depression in ice cream and bacon. The rewards of thinness abound: love, dreams fulfilled, praise. Still doubt remains.

Ana and Jack are a tight item, but will he still love her if she gains weight? He asks her to Homecoming and his mom takes her dress shopping with Jill. The most Beautiful Dress Ever is purchased, even if it’s too tight. She only has to lose 8 more pounds for it to fit. Jack won’t look away, like her dad did, if Ana is the most beautiful girl at Homecoming. Only 8 pounds.

Yes. It progresses. It gets worse. Within months Ana is a shell of the girl who began the journal. It is a harrowing, realistic protrayal of a person so trapped in negative psychology she can’t eat anything without self-hatred and guilt. There is a good dose of the online community that celebrates “Thinspiration” and anorexia. There are real efforts to bring Ana back from the edge before she tumbles over. Jack is by her side the entire way. Her parents take her from one clinic to another. Medical bills and insurance battles ensue, but the time runs faster than Ana. Damage is done, and all that is left are broken hearts.

The journal-style is taut. It is clean and free of fluff. Ana is disturbed. She is lying to everyone, including herself, but she can’t see anything clearly as a result of the disease. Having seen disorders like this in my own life–it felt painfully true. And frightening. Because–out there somewhere–TODAY another “Ana” is falling over the edge. And that’s the scariest part. How real this all is.

Read this book.

Interested? You can find LETTING ANA GO on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and probably your local library.

I read a copy provided by PulseIt–an online review community. It left me stunned, and a bit nauseous. Some books do that. It’s a good thing.

If you think you may have an eating disorder PLEASE TALK TO A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. You can find help. Some online, but mostly you need face-to-face treatment.

For everyone else: Please raise awareness for eating disorders. You might save a loved one’s life.

Thanks for popping in today. Keep reading my friends!