Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: Breathless by Jessica Warman

Found via: BBYA 2010 Nominations

Oh man. Stories about disabled and/or mentally ill siblings always get to me. At least once during every one of these books I ask myself why I'm torturing myself so. Not because they're inherently bad, but they just hit a little too close to home sometimes.

Katie and her brother have always been extremely close - as children of some privilege in a town where graduating high school without having had a baby first is an accomplishment. Katie is a gifted swimmer and extremely intelligent, and Will was a great athlete - until a combination of extreme bullying and drug use exacerbated his latent schizophrenia.

It's been a few years since his diagnosis, and Will has been in and out of various hospitals while Katie has been trudging on through her unexceptional school. But when Will's behavior turns from idiosyncratic to violent, their parents believe the best solution is to send Katie to a boarding school with a prestigious swim team - and do all they can to limit contact between the siblings.

The novel takes place over the Katie's high school career, from sophomore year - where she's one of two new students at the boarding school, since usually everyone comes in together as freshmen - through graduation. Katie deals with many of the usual high school foibles - fitting in with new friends, dating, sex, drinking and drugs. In fact, if you can pull out a YA lit school trope, it probably pops up in this book. Sometimes it feels a little too crammed with Katie's various problems.

Since the book covers a relatively long period of time (including a Harry Potter-esque epilogue ten years after the final chapter), we get to really see how some of Katie's decisions at the beginning of the book affect her over the years. On the other hand, since so much time is covered there are big gaps in time and so occasionally there are info-dump paragraphs where we're told of everything significant that happened between chapters. Off-puttingly, the book actually opens with such an info-dump, giving us the family history for a couple of pages before picking up with Katie and Will smoking on the roof of their house (their usual hangout).

Reading this immediately after The Road of Lost Innocence wasn't the best plan, which may have colored my feelings a little bit. Not that the two books have anything in common, aside from being "downers" of varying degrees. Friday's review will be of Amy Efaw's After, another unhappy title. Is it any wonder that I was craving something upbeat and happy?! So next week expect the review for Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, yesterday's Teaser Tuesday pick.
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