Christin (Portrait of a Book)'s Reviews > Don't Breathe a Word

Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala
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Feb 03, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 100in2012, book-portrait-review, src2012, young-adult, contemporary-fiction
Read in January, 2012

I haven't read many darker contemporary books, but when I was looking to read an emotional, powerful story, I turned to Don't Breathe a Word. And I was not disappointed. This book is not for the faint of heart, but if you can read past the heartbreaking moments and the grim reality that what is portrayed here is life for some teens, you will be left with a truly poignant story.

Joy Delamere struggles to breathe - literally and figuratively. She suffers from asthma, and because of several near-death experiences, she suffers from overprotective parents who nearly smother her in their effort to make sure she is okay. She also suffers emotionally from her relationship with Asher. Eventually it all becomes too much, and Joy knows what she has to do: disappear without a trace. She runs away from home, finding a new life on the streets of Seattle. There she is befriended by several "Ave Rats" - Creed, May, and Santos - and with their help she learns how to survive on the streets. But Joy soon learns what harsh realities this life brings. She is not the only one with a secret, with things to escape from. People aren't always who they seem to be. And on top of everything else, winter is quickly approaching, bringing with it cold, sickness...and possible death...

Where do I even begin to talk about this book? I am amazed that Holly Cupala could write this story to be heavy, intense, and yet not completely depressing. She doesn't shy away from any issues that kids on the streets (or teens in general) face, but a book like this needs the gritty truth rather than a glossing over of these unpleasant aspects. It's impossible not to be drawn into the world that Cupala has set up for these teens and to hope that they all do find a way to survive (preferably off the streets). At the same time, the relationships they forged, the family they created themselves, was incredibly touching. The fact that these teens who seem to have seen little true love in their life are capable of loving and taking care of themselves and others is inspiring to see. The four main characters in this book - Joy, Creed, May, and Santos - all have their own story and their own secrets to tell, and learning about all of their secrets and how they'd had to deal with them was nothing short of heartbreaking. I cared for each of them and I hope that, even though the story is over, they all continue to find their way.

Surprisingly, the character who bothered me the most in this story was Joy. Even though we learn the most about her story through flashbacks, I wasn't quite as moved by her story as by the others. However, I did appreciate that her time on the streets helped her to grow into a stronger person. Despite my issues with Joy, this book is worth reading for the stories of all the characters, especially Creed, and for insight into lives that most of us cannot even begin to imagine.

Don't Breathe a Word has both a story and characters that will draw you in and not let you go. It is not an easy read, but it is certainly a good one. I will look forward to reading more from Holly Cupala!
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