Monday, April 25, 2016

The Art of Not Breathing, by Sarah Alexander

Houghton Mifflin Books for Young Readers, ISBN 9780544633889, April 2016

The Main family, living in Fortrose on the Black Isle of Scotland, is a troubled family. Five years ago, Eddie Main drowned during a visit to the beach, and the family has been not dealing with it ever since.

Elsie, now sixteen, was Eddie's twin. Eddie, born second, was developmentally challenged due to difficulties during his birth. Elsie always felt responsible for him, and now feels responsible for his death.

Dillon, two years older, is the smart one, the one who aces everything at school--and also blames himself.

As for their parents, Celia and Collin, they're not in great shape, either, each in their different, troubled, and not very communicative ways.

They all have secrets.

But the art of not breathing is the art of  free diving, and Elsie, whose twin drowned, who is forbidden to ever go in the water, meets a boy who will teach her to free dive. And long-buried memories start coming back, piece by painful piece.

This is a thoroughly engrossing book. We see the story through Elsie's eyes, and Elsie is a girl struggling to survive, discovering a new and joyful skill, and coping with emerging, terrifying memories. It's all beautifully handled, and along the way we learn with Elsie more and more about the full and complicated inner lives of her brother Dillon, their parents, and her new friend Tay and his cousin Danny, as well as the awful convergence of normal human errors and failures that led to a tragedy out of proportion to those individual failures.

A very readable and compelling book. Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.