Release Date: January 19, 2012In short, Try Not to Breathe lives up to its name.
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Age Group: Young Adult
Buy: Fountain Bookstore / Amazon
Learning to live is more than just choosing not to die, as sixteen-year-old Ryan discovers in the year following his suicide attempt. Despite his mother’s anxious hovering and the rumors at school, he’s trying to forget the darkness from which he has escaped. But it doesn’t help that he’s still hiding guilty secrets, or that he longs for a girl who may not return his feelings. Then he befriends Nicki, who is using psychics to seek contact with her dead father. This unlikely friendship thaws Ryan to the point where he can face the worst in himself. He and Nicki confide in one another the things they never thought they’d tell anyone—but their confessions are trickier than they seem, and the fallout tests the bound of friendship and forgiveness.
This tangle of emotional moments will have readers holding their breath as often as the characters, but shock isn’t what will make you forget to breathe. Based on the description and the likening of this novel to Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (review), shock was what I was expecting. Well, it never came and I’m glad. There’s a quiet strength in this novel, and that’s what hooked me.
Ryan’s coping with life after his suicide attempt and release from the hospital. He’s waiting, like his friends Val and Jake from the hospital and so many other people in the world who are sick, depressed or suffering, for that mythical, magical moment where things “get better.”
He befriends Nicki, a girl searching for understanding she thinks only Ryan can provide, and the wonderful thing about their relationship is that it’s unremarkable. Nicki is the only person outside of Val and Jake that doesn’t walk on eggshells around Ryan. His parents (particularly his mother) watch his every move and most kids in town think of him as the psycho kid who tried to kill himself.
What he and Nicki have is nothing but real. She doesn’t hang out with him in an effort to save him. They are both honest and unflinching and don’t spare each others feelings.
Ryan shares truths with Nicki that he has never said out loud. In his mind, the things he has done or failed to do are truly horrible and he’s worried he’s sicker than anyone really knows. None of it is enough to make Nicki run.
It would have been very easy for Jennifer Hubbard to throw in something awful or tragic and give me the shock I looked for in the beginning. Instead, she maintained the realness of Ryan’s story and those of the people surrounding him. Each one of them is just a person with issues, some more serious than others, but just people.
Hubbard touches on themes of human invisibility, detachment, abandonment, and bullying among others. The story points to the fact that sometimes having people around you who should be a support circle isn’t enough because simply having them around doesn’t mean they know or understand you.
Try Not to Breathe also illustrates that when you’re in a bad way or going through a tough time having someone treat you like everything is fine can be exactly what helps you achieve some sense of normalcy again. Walking on eggshells or being overly worried only serves to remind those people that things aren’t fine and makes them more self-conscious or concerned than they already were. Nicki brings some semblance of normalcy back into Ryan’s life by breaking down his barriers instead of worrying that he could go over the edge at any moment.
I know I’ve said it before, but real is the only way I can describe this novel. It’s unguarded and honest. I have been anticipating this book since I first heard about it, and it did not disappoint. Make sure you pick this one up!