THE ART OF NOT BREATHING follows a character diving for answers after a tragic loss.
Since her twin brother’s drowning death five years ago, Elsie Main has learned a few things: She’ll always be watched by the prying eyes in her small town. Her parents will never be okay with her entering the water again. Remembering Eddie with anything less than tragic sadness is practically treason. Her mother is fragile, her father is harsh, and their marriage is falling apart. Her older brother is seemingly impervious to it all.
What Elsie doesn’t know is exactly what happened on her eleventh birthday, the day Eddie drowned… or where his body is all these years later.
A bit odd and certainly an outcast, Elsie begins spending her free time at the abandoned boathouse near Rosemarkie Beach– near the water but never in the water. That is, until she meets the new owner of the boathouse and his team of freedivers including seventeen-year-old Tay MacKenzie, a shy but witty soul with whom she finds a connection. It isn’t too long until Elsie rebelliously takes a dive into the water herself and has an unexpected, quick flash back to the day her brother died.
Desperate for more details, Elsie begins to sneakily dedicate her spare to freediving, a sport in which people gradually learn to swim to great depths for minutes at a time without any breathing apparatuses. Hence, The Art of Not Breathing. Elsie occasionally gets glimpses into the past as her new mission consumes her, but what is it doing to her life in the present? And does she actually want to find the answers she’s seeking?
Our experience reading The Art of Not Breathing was pretty comparable to Elsie’s freediving experience: It started out pretty rough but got easier and more valuable as time went on. While you always feel sympathy for Elsie, she’s not an intrinsically likable character and knowingly makes life difficult for others, at times. While you realize that her behavior is molded by her circumstances, it can still make it hard to root for her. As her world opens up a little more, we gain more confidence in her character– but it takes a while. It isn’t until about two-thirds of the way into the book, when Elsie truly begins to discover the many missing pieces in the story of Eddie’s final day, that we found ourselves totally engaged journey.
There were definitely a few speed bumps. For instance, Elsie’s story has an exaggerated queen bee character who hates Elsie for no particular reason and gets away with bullying her publicly and mercilessly without repercussions. It didn’t feel at all realistic. We also feel like Tay was oversold in the description, or perhaps undersold in the actual story. His interactions with Elsie are warm and inviting, but they weren’t nearly as often nor as prominent as we hoped they’d be.
Despite the slower start, this novel gains points for a raw, devastating, and ultimately hopeful ending that flips Elsie’s earliest perceptions about Eddie’s death, her family issues, and her newfound companions on their heads. There’s plenty of emotion running through the tale and an original twist at the end, which leads it to victory overall!
RATING: 3 out of 5 stars
The Art of Not Breathing hits shelves on April 26, 2016.