Jill Elizabeth's Reviews > Try Not to Breathe

Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R.  Hubbard
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Jan 11, 2012

really liked it
Read from December 30, 2011 to January 05, 2012

Today we’re venturing into YA land. Try Not to Breathe is a touching story about the isolation – and the drama – of being a teenager. My advance review copy was generously provided by the good people at Penguin Young Readers Group. You can get your very own copy when the book is released on January 19 OR you can enter the contest on my blog (www.Jill-Elizabeth.com) to win one of three free copies, courtesy of Penguin (contest runs thru 2/1/12).

Without further ado, I bring you Try Not to Breathe.

Ryan Turner has secrets. Secret fears, longings, deeds, feelings – you name it, Ryan has one sequestered deep inside. The only thing he can’t keep secret is, perhaps, the one thing he most wishes he could hide – the fact that he tried (quite unsuccessfully) to kill himself.

In the wake of his failed suicide attempt, Ryan is forced to come to terms with the events leading up to his decision to start the car in the closed garage and his subsequent stint in a psychiatric facility when a girl from school begins questioning him about his motivations to better understand her father’s successful suicide years before. The relationship between Ryan and Nikki is complex, convoluted, and occasionally a bit codependent.

But that seems to be the nature of all of Ryan’s relationships.

The parallel storyline about the messy aftermath as he and his parents live with the consequences of Ryan’s actions is equally fraught with its own series of difficult adjectives. As the family attempts to rebuild a fragile trust, Ryan is confronted by not only his own demons but also those of his parents, and the delicate manner in which Hubbard addresses the insecurities and emotional turmoil of that aftermath is heartbreaking and cautiously optimistic – often at the same.

Try Not to Breathe is Ryan’s recovery story (and a bit of a traditional coming-of-age tale), but it is also a rather fine piece of writing about the inherent nature of secrets: how they fester, how they grow in self-importance way beyond their actual impact, and most importantly how they inevitably come out, whether we want them to or not.

Throughout the book Ryan alludes to his secrets as though they were of the “I’m hiding nuclear weapons in my bedroom” variety. When I finally learned what they were, I initially rolled my eyes: “That was it?!” And then I stopped, and remembered what it was like to be seventeen, when everything in the world seemed life-or-death important, when whispered words could cut to the quick faster and deeper than any knife, when drama (well, truthfully melodrama) was the word of the day everyday.

Well done, Jennifer Hubbard. You yanked me back from an adult eye rolling perspective and made me seventeen again for just a few minutes – and believe me, those were some long minutes that I don’t care to relive any time soon.

Hubbard deftly manages to weave more than one lesson into Ryan’s tale. She manages to delicately thread parental-style wisdom in among the healthy smattering of angst, emotion, lust, and occasional F-bomb that overtly comprise her narrative style (and will surely appeal to her target audience). And she does it all in an easy-going, quick-reading way. Ryan learns a lesson or two, and you will too. A pretty good outcome for a day’s work, no?
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