Unlikeable and unreliable narrators are all the rage right now (Thanks, Gillian Flynn), but The Art of Not Breathing really pushes those concepts to my limit. It took a lot of work to get myself past the point of no return, but I was ultimately glad I stuck it out. Elsie is a hot mess, and her support system sucks, so I’m glad I got to see her character get a little bit back by the end. I gave it three stars.
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.
This book takes a little time to draw in the reader. While the mystery that drives the story is introduced almost immediately, the messenger, Elsie, is hard to embrace. She is strange and it takes a while to really get past the part of her that drives everyone away. That changes once she meets the boy who will ultimately force her out of the stasis that tragedy placed her in years earlier. He’ll change her life in more ways than she could have ever expected. I enjoyed watching Elsie’s transformation, and I think other readers will as well. That is really the strength of this book because the mystery fell a little flat, perhaps because it is a believable solution. There is quite a bit of teen drama, but it didn’t feel excessive. Each character is reacting to a tragic event that has been repressed, and those reactions felt like reasonable reactions to that stress. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and though it was a little depressing to watch these characters lance the infection that was killing them all, I was invested in the outcome and I was satisfied by the resolution. Language and some sensuality make this more appropriate for grades 9+.
I received an ARC from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.