Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Art of Not Breathing

Rate this book
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.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published April 26, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Sarah Alexander

1 book72 followers
Sarah Alexander grew up in London with dreams of exploring the world and writing stories. After spending several years wandering the globe and getting into all sorts of scrapes, she returned to London to complete a Master's degree in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College in 2013. Previous jobs include: tomato picker, travel consultant, mental-health support worker and suitcase administrator. Now she works in publishing. Sarah lives in London with her husband and two chickens. THE ART OF NOT BREATHING is her first novel.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
413 (19%)
4 stars
707 (33%)
3 stars
690 (33%)
2 stars
209 (10%)
1 star
69 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 372 reviews
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,403 reviews9,537 followers
November 8, 2016
MY BLOG: Melissa Martin's Reading List

Edward Main
11 April 2000-11 April 2011
Today we are sixteen. Happy birthday, Edward.


Elsie's twin drowned when they were eleven-years-old. Elsie can't remember what all happened that day but she feels like it's her fault.


1. Mum was at home making our chocolate birthday cake.
2. Dillon was swimming with the dolphins.
3. Eddie and I were wading close to shore.
4. One minute Eddie was there, and then he was gone.
5. Dad was supposed to be on the beach, but I couldn't see him.
6. Mum arrived later after the police called her.
7. I collapsed and Dad came to get me.
8. All my memories are tinged with a blue haze.

There are a lot of things going on in this book. It's a big mystery what actually happened to Eddie, until the end of course. Elsie spends a lot of time a lone in a boat house where she ends up meeting a buy named Tay and then the whole crew, Danny and a few other boys. They do free diving as a hobby and Elsie decides she wants to learn so Tay starts to teach her.


Elsie has an older brother named Dillon and something bad is starting to happen to him. This THING eventually ends him up in the hospital. The whole family is disfunctional, a lot of things have went wrong along the way.

Elsie gets picked on at school by bullies, it makes me sick and I wish someone would beat them down.

Alisa slams into me, nearly knocking me into the road.
"Ergh, you're still alive. We all hoped you'd died over the holidays." she says.
I walk on. Sometimes I do wish I were dead, but then who would look after Eddie?

I mean someone needs to take all of these bullies and put them somewhere. Period. Done.


Elsie feels like she's not even important at home.

After a little while, I wonder if anyone at home has noticed that I'm not there. Sometimes I feel invisible, like a wisp of air that tickles the back of someone's neck before they close the window to block the draft.

But in the water... she feels something... memories


Elsie slowly starts to remember things that happened that day. She starts to figure out why her brother Dillon has issues with Tay and why does Danny seem angry all of the time.

All of the answers come out in the water, all she needs is enough time to figure it out.

There are a lot of secrets in this book. I found it all to be very sad, but some things turned out for the better when all of the secrets come out in the open.

*I would like to thank Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*
758 reviews2,350 followers
November 14, 2017
DNF @page 140

This is literally the most boring thing I've read and while it is somewhat interesting, my fuck flew out the window so I couldn't give one, sadly.

The mc is blander than fuckign salt and even paper had more personality than her I'm fucking deceased.

She meets the guy for a second time (the first time for only five seconds, literally) AND SHE ALMOST SAID HER FIRST NAME AND THEN HIS LAST NAME TOGETHER, I'm fuckign pissing, let me die. Insta love at its finest, y'all!!!


The characters are so uninteresting and there's literally nothing happening in this book. I'm aware this is a mystery. Mystery of what??? If the mc and her boy end up together?? Bye I don't need that.

The mc is kind of stupid too.

This is just so bad imo and I can't read more.
Profile Image for Jenna.
262 reviews77 followers
August 29, 2017
3.5/5 stars
5 years ago Eddie drowned.
5 years ago Elsie's life turned upside down.
She cannot remember the details of that fateful day and it haunts her.
She still talks to her deceased twin brother, to her, he's always with her.
There are so many secrets and mysteries about that day that Elsie simply does not understand.
Her mom and dad fight all the time. Her brother Dillon has seemingly distanced himself from Elsie and Elsie feels as though no one would notice if she was gone.
Things change when Elsie meets Tay. Tay is older and takes an interest in Elsie.
It is then that Elsie begins her journey with free-diving. She has not been in the ocean since Eddie drowned, but now she is defying her parents for the urge to go deeper.
Mysteries begin to unravel, secrets come out and Elsie is still trying to understand it all.

This book pulled at my heartstrings. It is a complicated contemporary that moves through deep topics and feelings. It can be a little slow but you become invested in the story. I didn't like some of the ways certain things were approached in the book, or how they were written. I did almost give this book 4 stars but couldn't deny that it took be a very long time to read this book because I was never as into it as the other book I was reading. Some quotes from this book (which I will insert into this review later) really grasp certain concepts displayed in the book. They hit you in the feels. This book kind of reminds me of We Were Liars because of the mystery and secrets. It also reminded me of All the Bright Places, although they aren't really similar in plot, it gave me similar feelings.

What did you guys think of this book? Or know any books like it?
Profile Image for Sarah Elizabeth.
4,689 reviews1,266 followers
February 15, 2016
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group and NetGalley.)

“New things I remember about that day:
1. Dillion wasn’t swimming back to look for Eddie. He was looking for someone else.”

This was a YA contemporary story about a girl whose twin brother had drowned.

Elsie came across as a bit depressed, she seemed to have no drive, a reluctance to do anything other than wonder what had happened to her brother, and she seemed generally a bit lost.

The storyline in this was about Elsie trying to find out what had happened to her twin brother, and why he drowned. We also got a bit of a romance storyline, and the story touched on Elsie’s other brother’s eating disorder.

The ending to this had a couple of twists, and I didn’t guess what had really happened to Elsie’s twin.

6.25 out of 10
Profile Image for catherine ♡.
1,152 reviews150 followers
June 9, 2018
Actual Rating: 0.5

The Art of Not Breathing takes place five years after the death of Eddie Main, who drowned in the ocean. His twin sister, Elsie Main, is haunted by flashbacks of him as her family struggles to not fall apart.

Elsie doesn't remember what happened that night on the beach. But when she meets Tay McKenzie, she is introduced to the world of freediving, and she becomes determined to find answers to her lingering questions, even if it means travelling to the bottom of the sea.

One thing I liked about this was how the flashbacks were written. It's true that it's kind of hard to realize when they were happening because they were incorporated directly into the current timeline, but in the long run, I actually liked that type of writing style because it felt like it illuminated the impact of Eddie's death and how the memory of his presence seemed to follow Elsie around.

But I'm afraid I disliked the main character too much to really enjoy the story.

For example:
"If you come with me, I'll get naked for you."

Don't use your body as a bribing device - I wish Elsie understood that people were worth more than that.

One important aspect of this book is how Dillon, Elsie's older brother, falls to an eating disorder. I cannot stress out serious anorexia is. And yet, Elsie brushes it aside like it's nothing, like it's something not important enough to deal with now.

He nods, but I know he thinks I'm deserting him. Just hang on a few more days, Dilbil, I think to myself as I leave him. I'm sure that getting to the bottom of the drop-off is going to give me all the answers: to remember what happened, to get closure. It just has to. And then I'll be able to focus on Dillon.

So she has a lack of the sense of urgency, but in addition to that, her attitude towards her brother is unforgivable.
"Okay, calm down, I won't tell," I says, moving my head away from his mouth. "Why don't you get in the shower. You smell really bad."

Oh, yes, Elsie. Poor you, for having to smell Dillon's vomit.
Never mind the fact that your brother needs your help.

It continues when Dillon is hospitalized.
I'm suddenly fed up with his disgusting smell, his arrogance, and the fact that he keeps saying weird things and then denying them, I'm totally fed up with him.

At this point, Elsie's selfishness is extremely annoying. She continues to just focus on what her own goal is, completely ignoring the struggles that other people are going through - and she is not even slightly understanding about what he is going through.

Elsie's hatred of various smells continues.
When the door is shut, Dillon pulls my head toward his. I try to keep my nose away from his mouth, which smells of vile vanilla meal replacement.

I'm just really, really, tired of hearing about how everything smelled bad - as if that was the worst thing that was going on.

And, there was that moment where Elsie seemed to stand up to her bullies - when she was really being selfish. Again.
"Hmm. Not quite skinny enough yet. Still got flabby thighs. It's a shame about your brother, though. He used to be quite fit. I saw for myself, you know. And now he's an ugly mess of skin and bone."
I pretend I'm not hurt by her comments and hold my head high. "That's odd," I say. "I wonder why you still follow him around."

Wow, Elsie. I'm so proud of you for standing up for yourself even as you completely disregard the help that your brother needs and focus just on how great you are for not showing weakness at her snub.

That's not even the worst of it. Elsie may be desperate to find out what happened to her dead brother, but no matter what, you never, ever, ever treat it like a dirty secret and use it as blackmail material.

"You tell Dad anything, and I will tell him all about you starving yourself to death, about the laxatives. He'll drive you to the nearest hospital, and they will lock you up and force-feed you."

Being unsupportive is one thing. Using someone's weakness against them is another.

And keep in mind that this is Elsie talking to her brother, the only sibling she has left.

There also seems to be a diminishing of the importance of other serious issues. Elsie nearly drowns when she goes diving, and she stops trying and has to be rescued.
"I didn't want to be saved," I say quietly.

But later, she says this:
"It wasn't a suicide attempt," I say, "It was just a stupid thing to do."

What she said previously applies to so many people in the world. So many people in the world are tired of living and don't want to be saved, and I will not stand by and let her diminish that kind of mindset as something "stupid".

That's why I have to give this story one star - because looking at the main character, she seemed selfish, not determined. And there just didn't seem like there was development, whether it was in terms of the individual characters or in terms of the relationships between them (especially between Tay and Elsie).

But most of all, I have to rate this one star just because of the main character's views towards the issues in society that are already not treated as seriously as they should be.
Profile Image for Carole (Carole's Random Life).
1,683 reviews456 followers
October 24, 2017
This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books.

I liked this book. I have had a review copy of this book for about a year and a half and put it off after I started seeing mixed reviews. That was a mistake because this book worked really well for me. It is a rather short book but I think it moved fast for me because of how the story flowed. I just didn't want to quit turning pages once I reached a certain point in the story.

I was curious about the characters and their histories from the start of the book. The more that I read the more that I hooked. These characters have a lot of issues to deal with and I really wanted to see things work out for them. I am kind of surprised by how many tough topics found their way into this story but it worked.

This story follows Elsie. Elsie's twin brother, Eddie, died in a drowning accident 5 years earlier. Elsie and the rest of her family are just trying to keep moving forward but in many ways they are failing. Elsie's dad leaves for long periods of time and nobody knows where he is. Her mom drinks more than she should. Elsie isn't doing well in school and has no friends. Dillon seems to doing the best in the group but that's not really the case.

Elsie doesn't remember exactly what happened the day that Eddie died but she wants to remember. When she meets Tay and the other diving boys, she ends up learning to dive and finds that she feels closer to her lost brother under the water. She is remembering things and hopes to learn what happened just as her family is falling apart.

There were a few times in the story that I wanted to shake the characters for some of their actions but I always felt that what they did felt authentic. People don't always do what they should and as teenagers it can be even harder. While I didn't always like what the characters were doing, I understood why they made the choices that they did.

I would recommend this book to others. It was a book that had a really strong finish that made me feel for the characters. I am really a bit upset that I put this one off for as long as I did. I would definitely read more from Sarah Alexander in the future.

I received an advance reader copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group - HMH Books for Young Readers via NetGalley.

Initial Thoughts
This book had a really strong finish. It was a quick read that really hit on a lot of difficult topics. I was as desperate as Elsie to find out what happened to Eddie and it was really hard to see how much everyone was hurting.
Profile Image for Janet.
Author 3 books452 followers
December 31, 2015
That's all I could say or even THINK, upon reading the final page of this gritty, gut-tearing, phenomenally-messy (in the best way) debut. From page one, I was gripped by Elsie's story. She's a shlob. And she knows it. And though she's not necessarily cool w/it. That doesn't mean she isn't cool as hell.
Cause she is. Cool. Brave. Loving in her own, rough way.
And even though Elsie's family is one huge jacked-up mess, after her twin brother's accidental drowning, she tries to keep her head above water. (PS--this cliche will become more substantial, once you read.)
And you SHOULD read. As soon as you can. Because Alexander's fascinating peek into a broken girl and her utterly-broken life is one you will want to 'dive' into the second you get the chance.
Profile Image for Giulia.
151 reviews139 followers
May 20, 2016
3.5 stars

The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander is her YA debut novel.
I came upon this book casually without knowing anything neither of the author nor of the plot itself. I had just finished a slow and action-packed book, so I hoped this one would be a quick and light read.
Well, it turns out I read it in a few hours. It wasn't light at all, but it had something that made turn every page eager to know what would happen next.

The story
Five years after the drowning of her twin brother, Scottish teenager Elsie Main confronts the tempestuous sea and her family’s tragic past.
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.

The characters
Elsie is a 16 yo who is experiencing life as a normal 16 yo would. The characterization was very well done and the development felt real and necessary. She has a twin brother Eddie, who died 5 years before, but she has yet to discover what happened to him. She then embarks in an physical and psychological adventure to find out more. Elsie uses freediving as a sort of therapy and her results (without even taking serious classes) were astounding.
Tavey is the cute and tormented boy she slowly becomes friend with. But their friendship seems to hide some secrets.
Dillon is Elsie's brother. He suffers for everything that's happening to their family, collecting the pains of the past and the present. I had mixed feelings for him throughout the book, because I wasn't able to understand his actions at all.
Ailsa and her friend (Dillon's girlfriend nonetheless) are bullying Elsie and I have yet to understand the reason. Elsie gives us one, but I am not fully convinced by it. It's pointless to say I deeply hated both of these girls.
Dillon and Elsie's parents are coping with past events and they have yet to learn how to help their children. I wasn't rooting for them as individuals at all, I was rooting for their family.
Danny is a coward. Enough said.
And last but not least, Eddie. We learn a few chapters in that he suffered at birth. He didn't breathe properly and there were consequences when he grew up. Throughout the book, he didn't feel different at all, he seemed like a normal child and despite everything people were saying, he was, in fact, normal, but in his own way.

The themes
This book approaches a wide range of difficult themes: death, grief, eating disorders, bullying and parenting. I don't want to say much because I think it is necessary to read this book to fully comprehend how the author creates the connections among these issues.
I'll say though that I absolutely hated the gratuitous injustices and the violent bullying. I wanted to step into the story myself and strangle everybody with my own hands, including those who don't do anything in first person but they don't even stop their friends. The bullying looked a bit exaggerated though.
I liked the fact the author presented Elsie, who seem to suffer from an eating disorder herself, one opposed to her brother, without pitying her, but creating a realistic image of the events. Having a difficult interaction with the parents themselves, it was a detailed portrait of the life they (like many other people) seem to have.
Sarah Alexander previously was a mental-health support worker, so we can see from where all of this comes. It felt so real and ugly at times that I was both emotionally detached and moved at the same time.

The writing
Sarah Alexander's writing was simple, straight-forward and addictive. I couldn't stop reading and, even if it was difficult to read about certain happenings, the chapters went on smoothly. The words pictured one of the most realistic stories I have ever read.
I didn't really understand the short phone messages that precede some of the chapters, maybe they are another to show us Eddie? I am not sure, but some of the jokes and interaction were cute.
Also, I loved the flashbacks Elsie had in the water. I don't know if I loved the idea more or that I was waiting for them to happen and I wanted to know what happened so much.

A general evaluation
I have probably used the word "real" too much in this review, but this is exactly what this book was in my opinion.
I love the title and it perfectly links two of the main aspect of the story. Eddie's non-breathing when he was born and Elsie's love for freediving. I thought about this and I came to the conclusion that this title feels like the connection the twins seem to have in the story, it reflects their union.
I also really enjoyed the fact it was set in Scotland, which isn't like an ideal place for swimming or freediving. I love the sea/ocean and I adore swimming, so this element really struck a chord with me.
This book is permeated with sadness and pain though. Sometimes it was hard to read, but I sincerely couldn't stop. The ghosts of the past seem to influence the present even more that they should. And secrets seemed to be the second nature of the family and friends.
At the end, I thought I was going to get what it really happened, but then it looked impossible and then it was a totally different thing, and I almost got it. The end in my opinion lacked a bit of closure though.
Anyway. this book is really enjoyable and it was a nice change from my usual picks.

My favorite quotes
"That's the thing with art. You always have to look at it from a different perspective."

"My advice to you, Elsie, is go with your heart, not your head, because your head doesn't know what it wants. It only thinks about the moral high ground. And if your heart isn't happy, when you try to share it you'll make others unhappy too."

"I'll try. And you promise me that you'll breathe."
Profile Image for Silanur.
239 reviews96 followers
July 17, 2017
3.5 stars. Spoiler-free review below! This book will be released April 26th, 2015.

Thank you to HMH kids for providing me an ARC of this book! My thoughts and review are in no way influenced by this.

» Summary/Synopsis
The Art of Not Breathing is a YA contemporary that not only deals with romance but also with a very heavy topic: death and getting over it. The main character, Elsie, is a 16-year-old girl who lives in Scotland. Five years ago, her twin brother, Eddie, disappeared while they were swimming. However, Elsie can not remember what exactly happened that day. Her family broke apart, and parts of her memory are hazy and unclear. Ever since, she has been trying to remember but still can't put together all of the pieces.

In reality, this book may be considered to have no "plot". But I personally think that this is what made the book special: as the book progresses, so does Elsie, and slowly the mystery of what happened that day unravels and once you put all of the puzzle pieces together, it really touches you.

One day, Elsie leaves her house to go to her secret hideout, an abandoned boathouse, where she meets Tay. Tay and three other boys his age are divers, and as Elsie gets to know them, she also wants to dive. As Elsie dives, she realizes that it really relaxes her mind and she begins to remember the tragic day that happened five years ago.

Honestly, I believe that should be enough to captivate you. If I give to much of a synopsis, then I'm afraid I will spoil you because this is the type of book that you will enjoy much more if you don't know anything about it. Now onto my thoughts on the book!

» The Writing
As I mentioned in one of my status updates, this book has a really addictive writing style. Although, at times, Elsie's voice is really sad, you want to keep reading and that is precisely what happened to me. The narration and description of everyone is really beautiful, and it keeps the story going and the characters stay with you even though the book is less than 300 pages long.

The writing also really reminded me of a favorite of many people: I'll Give You the Sun. Just like I'll Give You The Sun, something tore apart Elsie's family in the past but the author does not let you know what. However, as the book goes on, Elsie has a lot of flashbacks of the past while she is under the water, and she starts realizing what was actually going on.

»The Characters
Although flawed, most of the characters in this book were also really lovable. My favorite character is easily Elsie. She's constantly blaming herself for the disappearance of Eddie, but at the same time her character grows. Her interaction with other characters may not be ideal, but I think flawed characters are the best because they are the most relatable and although I hadn't gone through her situation, I could feel for her. Her actions were understandable, because she was a relatable character. Besides Elsie, I thought all of the characters were really intriguing to read about. I would love to learn more about their backstories, too! :)

» The Quotes
There were also quite a few quotes that were really deep, and since they won't spoil the book I just wanted to share them one with you guys to give a glimpse of the book.
"My advice to you, Elsie, is go with your heart, not your head, because your head doesn't know what it wants. It only thinks about the moral high ground. And if your heart isn't happy, when you try to share it you'll make others unhappy too."

--pg. 150, ARC of The Art of Not Breathing.

I'd add more, but I think you guys should experience reading it for yourselves. :)

The only complaint I have for this book, which is the reason I took down 1/2 a star, is because sometimes I thought Elsie was too attached to Tay. I wanted her to be more independent, and I guess by the end of the story that happened, but I just wish it had happened sooner. Anyways, I didn't mind this all too much so it's totally fine.

My favorite part of the book was definitely the ending, because it was so cute and also because everything unraveled and I understood the reasoning for everything that happened before in the book.

I really hope you guys decide to pick this book up when it comes out April 26th, because it's really worth the read! ^-^ I especially think those who love Jandy Nelson's books will really love this one!

Read it if you liked: I'll Give You the Sun // Every Last Word // All the Bright Places
Profile Image for Dianne.
6,765 reviews582 followers
April 5, 2016
Her twin brother drowned under her watch and for five agonizing years Elsie has carried the burden of guilt. Eddie had special needs and could be a handful, but she let go of his hand and he ran into the sea to follow their older brother and he never returned. From that day forward her family imploded, any surface crack that may have had become gaping fissures, with everyone holding their secrets inside. For Elsie, she could see and hear her twin in her nightmares, as if he was calling to her to find him far below the water. She took up free diving with the help of a new boy in town, an outcast of sorts who carries his own painful secrets. Tay made Elsie feel again, truly feel, but he, too disappeared before she could seek an end to her nightmares.

They say twins have a special bond, one that transcends understanding, and Elsie will not stop until she knows the truth of that day and remembers the events she has blanked out. What she discovers is that for all of the guilt she carried, hers was the least of it all, the world is full of selfish actions and many of these actions contributed to the events that day.

The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander is a heartbreaking tale of loss, guilt and hope for redemption. It is a tale of a dysfunctional family who was already broken, but further degraded as each member became so self-absorbed in their won loss that they forgot they were a unit that was supposed to share, comfort and help heal the festering wound. They forgot that only one of them had died, not all of them. Ms. Alexander’s writing is grueling at times, heart-wrenching and shrouded in the veil of pain that surrounds Elsie and those around her. Well written, this is NOT a tale for those looking for light reading.

I received this copy through NetGalley from HMH Books for Young Readers in exchange for my honest review.

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 26, 2016
Genre: YA Fiction
Print Length: 288 pages
Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble 
For Reviews & More: http://tometender.blogspot.com

Profile Image for Amy Allgeyer.
Author 2 books48 followers
December 19, 2015
This is one of *those* books...the kind you can't put down. The kind you keep thinking about long after you're finished. The kind you want to read again and again.

Focusing on the fallout of a traumatic event five years prior, The Art of Not Breathing drew me in from the first chapter, and I became more riveted with every page--as anxious to find out what was going to happen as I was to find out what *had* happened. Alexander's portrayal of Elsie, a young girl broken and stunted by the loss of her twin brother, is brilliant. Elsie's interactions with her equally messed up family are totally believable--painful and ugly and funny and hopeful.

The character development in this book is incredibly deep, from the parents who screw up repeatedly in huge ways and never really get things right, to Elsie's brother--dealing with his own hidden well of guilt and pain, to the side characters who end up being surprisingly integral to the plot. Add to that a beautifully painted Scottish Isle setting, complete with rain and fog and the deadly North Sea, and you've got a tale as good as any I've ever read.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review, and this is it: The Art of Not Breathing takes the reader on a gritty, glorious trek into the heart of guilt and grief and spits them out on the other side, different. Which is exactly what a book should do.
Profile Image for S.M. Parker.
Author 3 books186 followers
February 15, 2016
The Art of Not Breathing was an immersive, beautiful read and a seriously impressive debut.

The story deals with the different ways in which people grieve and deal with guilt. (And so much more, but I don't want to give away any spoilers). The main character has lost her twin and she can feel him, see him, experience him in a way that is lush and haunting and heart-breaking—but also so beautiful and hopeful. The way Alexander writes about the unique ways in which one girl keeps her twin at her side is breathtaking. I fell in love with the atmospheric quality of the writing and how the author made me eager to uncover the truth. I was haunted by this book in the most remarkable way. It got under my skin and I was forever feeling like another problem would surface around the next corner. And in the very best way. This book kept me guessing and wanting to uncover the mystery, but I also wanted this family to heal. To reconnect with their most poignant moments and find the clues that made them heal from loss. This is a beautiful book that I feel like I cannot do justice to in this review because I don't want to give too much away. Suffice it to say, this book is gorgeous.

I read an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for The Candid Cover (Olivia & Lori).
1,161 reviews1,299 followers
March 14, 2021
Full Review on The Candid Cover

The Art of Not Breathing is a book that honestly had so much potential! It is about a girl who tries to remember her brother’s disappearance and even incorporates free diving. However, the main character seems emotionless and makes some pretty bad choices, which made the book a lot less enjoyable.

The Art of Not Breathing tells the story of a girl named Elsie whose twin brother disappeared at the beach when they were eleven. She has tried to remember details about his disappearance, but has had no luck. Then, she is introduced to free diving and sees a new chance to figure out what happened to her brother. I really enjoyed the use 0f flashbacks as Elsie gets closer to the truth and her determination to know the full story.

One of my favourite aspects of The Art of Not Breathing is the free diving. The way that it is incorporated to trigger Elsie’s memories was really interesting to read about. I especially enjoyed how careful Elsie and her crew are to dive carefully. She wants to go down to this massive drop-off to look for her brother, but is able to withhold until she has enough training. I honestly know nothing about free diving, so learning about all the equipment and safety precautions was fascinating.

Although I enjoyed so much about The Art of Not Breathing, I had some problems with Elsie. I didn’t like a lot of the decisions she made throughout the book. She also didn’t seem to have any emotions at all. Her feelings weren’t really described, so she just does things emotionlessly. It is really hard to connect with a character who doesn’t feel things. But what I really didn’t enjoy about Elsie was her habit of spying on people, like her brother and his girlfriend. She literally watched them through the crack of a door once, which I found to be really creepy. The main character has a big influence on whether or not I enjoy a book, and unfortunately, Elsie didn’t really do it for me.

The Art of Not Breathing is about the search for a missing brother and free diving. I enjoyed so much about this book, but unfortunately, the main character was not one of them. I feel like this book had so much potential, it just wasn’t for me.
Profile Image for Morris.
964 reviews160 followers
May 20, 2016
“The Art of Not Breathing” is far from your typical YA book. In fact, I found it quite odd. That isn’t actually a bad thing considering that our narrator, Elsie, is different from the norm herself.

This is one of those books that mentioning much of it will spoil the whole thing. I can say the Elsie is dealing with the drowning death of her twin brother when they were eleven and a very, very broken family. Her life is extremely painful and the author spares no feelings in describing the stark reality of everything that she is living through.

On top of her home life, she is dealing with a bullying at school. In fact, there is one scene that describes the most brutal bullying situation I have ever read. It was bad enough that I had to put the book down for a bit. One other thing that may trigger readers is that her brother has a severe eating disorder. I applaud the author for her frank description of what it does to him, but I want to warn everyone that it is graphic.

I recommend “The Art of Breathing” to anyone looking for a good contemporary read that unflinchingly examines broken families, the lies they tell, bullying, and eating disorders. There is romance, but if you’re looking for something lighthearted in that genre I’d suggest you look elsewhere.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Kris.
508 reviews5 followers
September 26, 2015
I love that it takes place in Scotland. The descriptions of diving are gorgeous. Elsie is a great character many girls will relate to.
Profile Image for Rya.
48 reviews8 followers
December 31, 2017

This is a spoiler-free review.

I'm giving this book a 1.5 rating. This is more of a poorly constructed rant about the main character than a review.

"I'm so relieved he's not running away that I kiss him, on the lips, and I have to rein myself back in before I literally eat him."

I wasn't aware eating people was part of being far too attached to a boy you just met.

In all honesty, 1.5 stars might be generous. Like most readers, I generally want to love the book I'm reading. I like to give books and their authors every chance they deserve because I believe everyone has a right to have their work read without bias. Well, I started reading without bias and I still ended up hating this book with a passion.

I did my best to take this book seriously. I did my best to respect the characters who were not so much flawed in a natural human way but kind of unbearably stupid and also assholes. The main character, Elsie, is kind of what you would expect a 16 year old girl to be like. She's stupid, falls in love with every boy who is even a little nice to her, thinks the world revolves around her, and apparently gets drunk after drinking half a beer. That last one might be the most concerning as I even took the time to calculate possible BAC and even making her as small as 80lbs she shouldn't be feeling a damn thing. I started to question if the author had indeed done all the things the "About the Author" section claims she has as it seems she may never have left her home. This is not a personal attack, I'm just wondering if any of this was researched and if it was how it went so wrong. The character became unbelievable very fast because of her ridiculous choices and incomprehensible thought process. Being a teenager is hardly an excuse for most of this.

Anyway, Elsie's twin brother, Eddie, drowns when they are about 11. They are swimming at the beach and he just sort of vanishes. Elsie starts having random flashbacks containing information she didn't have any memory of before. As the story goes on we're supposed to be getting sucked into this mystery of what actually happened that day but you know what I was concerned about? Her other brother. While Elsie, the winner of about 17 stupidest teen awards, goes to hang out with her boyfriend (this is the guy she met maybe a few months ago who has taken off out of town at least once without warning or explanation and probably also had something to do with this Eddie conspiracy) her brother has a serious eating disorder. Our beloved heroine, Elsie, is fully aware of this illness and, instead of taking the time to even talk to her brother or inform parents or teachers, she lurks pro-ana forums learning absolutely nothing useful and sleeps with her boyfriend in a boathouse. She keeps saying things to him in her head like "just hang on a few more days" so that she can sort out her own trivial problems because yes, people suffering eating disorders just experience organ failure on your schedule.

"I wonder if part of me wants her to go through this so someone understands how I feel"

My next favourite thing about Elsie is that she gets some satisfaction out of watching her mother mourn the loss of her husband of roughly 20 years and compares this pain to her boyfriend of maybe 3 weeks breaking up with her. This is probably the most understandable action of a 16 year old who has just lost their "first love" but it's kind of brilliant how angry one character can make me.

I could go on about Elsie and how much I dislike her for at least 20 pages but I think you get the point here. She takes stupid teenager to a new level and don't pity or take her seriously. Before I end this rant I'd also like to make brief comment regarding this drowning conspiracy and the ending of the book. It's highly disappointing even when you aren't expecting much.

I do not recommend this book. I thank God that this was free and in digital format because this is one book I would be leaving at a bus stop on purpose if it were in print.
Profile Image for Connie.
1,462 reviews22 followers
March 29, 2016
Source: I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for a honest review, with thanks to both Netgalley and HMH book group.
Cost: Free

Title: The Art of Not Breathing
Author: Sarah Alexander
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mystery
Overall Rating: 4 stars

This is exactly the type of YA contemporary that I like.

I like gritty, angst ridden books that will take you on a journey. I like depressing plots and books that deal with tough issues, this book deals with depression, mental health issues, alcoholism, eating disorders, death, divorce, bullying and everything in between. There's no drive in the main character at the beginning, but as the story goes along, we really see Elsie grow and develop into a pretty well rounded person and the ending of this book broke my heart a bit. The whole book leads up to something, and it's something that you know is going to shock you. Elsie's twin brother Eddie drowned five years ago and they never found his body, however, Elsie has no memory of that day and now she's beginning to get flash backs.

What she remembers unravels five years worth of lies and drama and I love it.

The love story in this book was also easy to follow and interesting to unravel along with Elsie. Overall, a pretty incredible book.
Profile Image for _giovannard.
81 reviews53 followers
February 1, 2016
I wanted so badly to love this book and all it did was let me down. The biggest issue I had with this story were the flashbacks. They would come at the strangest times and half the time I didn’t even know that I was in a flashback. It made the whole story very confusing to the point that I had to read some parts multiple times and even ask my sister about it to make sure that I understood what was going on. Literally half of the time, I did not understand what was going on. I mean looking back, I still don’t really know what happened.

Continue Reading...
Profile Image for Carol Brill.
Author 3 books154 followers
April 6, 2016
Narrator Elsie is 11 when her twin brother disappears while they are swimming. Now, at 16, she struggles to remember what happened. Why wasn't her father on the beach watching them, why did her older brother seem to be looking in a different direction? What do they know about that day that she can't remember? This is s story of a families' burden of shame and guilt and secrets. On the positive side, I wanted to know what happened that day and kept reading to find out.
I found many of the characters cliche and not well developed. Transitions, especially flashbacks were often cumbersome. The big reveal felt forced. More a 2.5 for me
Profile Image for Gray Cox.
Author 4 books164 followers
October 24, 2017
*Joins Aimee in her chant* stop glorifying unhealthy behavior.... stop glorifying unhealthy behavior.... stop glorifying unhealthy behavior.....

I HATED this book. The swearing, the TMI, the characters with zero personality, the entirely two-dimensional plot.

Put this on your "Don't read ever list" or if you're reading it, stop, save yourself the time, DNF it. Seriously. It's awful.

The only thing I liked was the diversity when it came to mental disabilities and illnesses.

Everything else was awful.
Profile Image for Lauren Schultz.
67 reviews4 followers
January 23, 2016
An ARC of this book was sent to me for review by HMH, and it in no way affected my review.

I absolutely adore this book. The character development is amazing, and the story is extremely well written. Alexander's writing style kept me drawn in the entire time, and it was very refreshing to read such a well written book.
Profile Image for Lydia.
431 reviews41 followers
January 11, 2016
Wonderful book about grief, young males with an eating disorder, and growing up. Somewhere I thought I saw an age recommendation of 12 or 13...I'd probably bump that up to 16 or so.
Profile Image for Grace.
257 reviews13 followers
October 14, 2017
I don’t even know where to begin.

All i can say is the main character Elsie Main is one of the vilest characters I have ever had the displeasure of reading about. I despised her so much, I was so angry at one point that I started crying tears of rage.

Let me just kind of talk about the writing first off-it was choppy. The chapters, the delving into random flashbacks this emphasis on certain things that later become completely irrelevant was just really irritating. I thought that this red lipstick that Elsie was obsessing over for a while would be a big thing later on in the story and it wasn’t, I thought her issues with her body would come into play later on and they didn’t really I thought her feeling as though she was invisible would be more emphasized but none of it was it was a horrible romance story that was rushed, sloppy, all over the place and so dramatic, I was so over all of it by the end.

I thought the big reveal for what happened to Eddie would be crazy and emotional which is why I kept pushing myself through this mess of a book but that “secret” was so…stupid. The main girl blew the reveal and the truth way out of the water like it was something horrific and in all honesty…it wasn’t.

Here is the thing when I started reading this book I thought I would have so much in common with Elsie. I too have suffered through bullying because of my body-I used to be really skinny and I'm extremely pale and people would constantly point this out and call me anorexic and would make fun of me for my size. Then I put on a lot of weight twice in my life and people picked on me for being fat.

Then I’ve lost someone very close to me, I’ve lost several people so I thought this grieving that she was going through at such a young age would also be something I could relate to-but this girl was so beyond different from me in the way she went about everything. Not only was she the most insensitive, selfish little brat-she was so overdramatic that I wanted to implode countless times.

Not only this but it was as if she was falling heads over heels for any guy who gave her the time of day. The insta-love was excruciating and to top it off when this insta-love quickly turned into a relationship that relationship ended super quickly and it was as though the author actually expected me to mourn the loss of this very superficial and contrived romance. Why on earth would I care about this spontaneous and sudden love? Then to top it off after this super “heart-breaking” break up she starts immediately fantasizing about her ex's friend…I felt as though I was reading from the perspective of a child.

I get it everyone has their own way of grieving but this was so idiotic I can’t begin to understand this girl's thought process. Now I can’t imagine what it's like losing a sibling let alone a twin, but I lost my great-grandmother at a fairly young age and this woman was literally my whole world and she was suddenly gone. I went into a very deep spiral of depression that went along with the years of bullying and low self-esteem but I didn’t see that within her and she lost a brother, her twin brother. But it was as though, she didn’t, I didn’t believe it. I felt no connection between her and her twin. Yes, some of her memories of him were so sweet but regardless I felt nothing.

This was not all, the whole time I was reading from Elsie’s perspective I felt nothing. I didn't feel anger when she felt anger, I didn’t feel sad when she felt sad. Literally, the only descriptors to describe when she was sad were “I let out a sob” and that was it-do you actually expect me to just burst into tears because “oh no the drama queen has let out a sob!” Losing someone is hard, so beyond hard, losing a child and a sibling is just horrifying and tragic. But I didn’t get that from Elsie, instead, I got it from the rest of her family. I got it from Dillion and his struggle with an eating disorder, I got it from her father running out on them, I got it from her mother’s alcoholism that we were briefly exposed to-but I got nothing from Elsie.


Considering the tragedy she went through I’d expect to feel just a bit sorry for her but I don’t, not at all. Now as I stated above I cried because Iw as so frustrated and here is why-Elsie is a selfish bitch.

Her living brother Dillion starts to go through a VERY HARD TIME, we see his downward spiral into an eating disorder and its just heartbreaking and she found a way to make it seem small. When she knew he was starving himself and puking, she threatened to go and tell their mother so he could get help, help that he fucking needed. But then he tells her that if she does he’ll tell their mother about her diving-now keep in mind she’s diving because she wants to see her dead brother (?????). So when he threatens that she’s just like okay fine, because finding her dead brothers most likely decayed body was more important than keeping her living brother alive, and healthy, and safe.


Then I expected her to know better than to poke fun at people’s figures but she made several comments about how “skinny” people are and using it as an insult and a reason to judge others. Meanwhile, she’s been bullied her life for being bigger, and now her brother is underweight, malnourished, dehydratedm and dying from a debilitating eating disorder and she has the nerve to go and poke fun at skinny people…I can’t even…I am so angry. This girl was so selfish, so insensitive, and so full of crap I can’t take her seriously all I feel thinking about her is an unadulterated rage.

Not only this but while her sick brother is in the hospital, wrestling against the feeding tubes that are inside his throat she suggests helping him escape…his life is being saved and she wants to tarnish his chance of getting better by helping him escape. DOES SHE HAVE NO BRAIN!?!?!! NOT ONLY THIS BUT SHE HAS THE AUDACITY TO ACTUALLY CALL HIM ARROGANT, STINKY AND ANNOYING WHILE HE IS IN RECOVERY LIKE HIM BEING ILL IS THE BIGGEST INCONVENIENCE TO HER LIFE!!!!

I feel so bad for Dillion he was given the worst sister ever. If I ever met her I would punch her so hard. I am still fuming at this arrogance, the stupidity and the all-around selfishness that Elsie as a character expressed throughout this book. I hated the rushed, sloppy and all over the place writing. I hated the rushed romance and bull crap big reveal that Elsie completely overreacted to…I regret picking this book up. I thought it was horrible. I didn’t learn anything, I didn’t have some big life-changing revelation while reading this book. I felt as though I wasted days reading this book hoping to find out something huge about what happened to Eddie, to see some intense reveal and truth. But I got nothing from this book, such a massive waste of time.

I would not recommend for anyone.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
349 reviews172 followers
May 31, 2016
With The Art Of Not Breathing, I did something I don’t usually do.  I read reviews about the book while I was still reading the book.  Terrible idea, I know.  But the book intrigued me, and left me wondering if only I was unimpressed by the detached, honestly boring writing, and it turns out I wasn’t the only one.  Thank the heavens.

The Art of Not Breathing is a story about Elsie Main and her family, set in a small town near Inverness, Scotland.  And the beauty of this book does not lie only in the setting, but also in its characters that are brilliantly thought out.  Elsie lost her twin brother Eddie to drowning about five years prior to the setting of the book.  Her family is in complete shambles—her older brother who has an eating disorder, parents who are too wrapped up in their own grief and are hella negligent—and Elsie herself is no good.  After all, she was supposed to be taking care of Eddie, and he’s gone because of her.  Obviously, there’s a lot more to the book, (and Eddie’s death) but let’s deal with this one at a time.

Despite all my reservations about the book—some of which I’ll address, some are too spoiler-y—I can honestly say that I liked Elsie a lot.  Her voice was the kind you’d want to reach out and help, no matter what.  For a sixteen year old, Elsie is smart beyond her years.  And brave.  So, so brave.  Here is a girl who lost her brother to the sea.  After such a traumatic event, she takes it on herself to learn free diving (which is basically deep see diving, but without any oxygen tanks).  It’s an act of courage and bravery that I respected and was in complete awe of.  I certainly couldn’t have done it.  Apart from that, she’s also constantly bullied at school, and is neglected at home.  It can’t be a pretty environment, but Elsie’s grace in trying times was something to look up to.

And of course, this book would’ve been just fine without the love interest Tay, but okay.  Tay was…not one of my favourites, in all honesty.  In fact, he kind of took away from the book instead of adding to it.  It’s not specifically called out to, but it’s possible that Tay had ADHD, and I looked forward to how Elsie would deal with that—but, nothing.  It was only a passing observation, nothing more.  Besides, the whole insta-love thing didn’t work for me, owing to the fact that Tay knew a lot about Eddie’s death than he said.  And Elsie knew that.  Tay was the one who encouraged Elsie into free diving, and that’s basically the only thing I enjoyed seeing relating to this guy.  Bleh.

For the amount of “page-time” that was spent in going over Eddie’s death and the family’s subsequent fallout, I was ridiculously underwhelmed when the truth was actually revealed.  I’d expected a bit more…I don’t know, more?  There were a ton of clichés throughout the book that I’d intended to ignore, but the ending was a complete mess, and that’s just unacceptable.  When I say that a book had the best concept and the most unique of ideas, and then go on to say that the writing disappointed me, know that I say it with the heaviest of hearts.  Like I said before, this book and its characters deserved a more passionate writing, a writing that could make me feel instead of just see, and it’s so sad to see that that won’t be happening at all.

I was provided a free earc of this book by HMH Books for young readers through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This did not, however, in any way influence the content of this review.
Profile Image for Nahia.
680 reviews80 followers
January 2, 2019
3'5 en realidad.

Una lectura ligera y bastante adictiva, de esas con las que necesitas toda tu fuerza de voluntad para parar y no quedarte leyendo hasta las mil, o hasta acabar el libro de una sentada.
Pero tengo que decir que el final no me ha gustado demasiado. Sí la parte familiar, pero no el final final (relacionado con otro personaje de la historia).
Profile Image for Sissy Lu {Book Savvy Reviews}.
512 reviews51 followers
March 12, 2016
I feel like I'm on a roll and a bad one, like the kind that sends you careening off the edge of a cliff. HA! Get it? Inside joke for those who read it, there are moments of jumping off a cliff, har har har...

I did not like this story at all, although I finished it because it was a smaller sized book, I did not enjoy any of it. Maybe it's because I'm 29 years old and I just don't get 16-year-olds these days, eh?

Elsie is our main character, she's a 16-year-old from Scotland and once upon a time had a twin brother, Eddie, who was born a few minutes later than Elsie. Something went wrong during his birth and he wasn't able to breathe, which caused some disorders to come forward. As such, Eddie was the child who became favored by the family, he was to be babied and the like. Often everything was about Eddie. Dillon is the eldest and as we see later, he has also suffered.

When Elsie and Eddie are 11, he winds up drowning at the beach one day. The family at this point is just beginning to be as messed up as we find it to be later on. There is so much more that happens at the beach.

The story begins here, Elsie still has so many questions in regard to her brother's death and that day in particular. Well, Elsie meets Tay MacKenzie who is a bad boy, who happens to be into free-diving. Funny, for a girl who was afraid of the water because of what happened in it years ago, she takes a flying leap from a cliff into the water and nearly drowns herself. She discovers she has flashbacks here which are confusing if you aren't paying attention because they will pop up out of nowhere and fairly blend in with the rest.

Yeah, the characters are pretty flat and I wasn't keen on them, they were unlikable and yeah the general idea about them may have been a little fascinating, the story, in general, may have been, but I felt little to no chemistry with Elsie. I couldn't feel bad for her because she was one dimensional. There were so personal issues in it for me, too. Like for the fact this seems to be geared toward the young aspect of young adult. Like, we're talking 13-16. I would not let my daughter read this book. It has topics on sex, drugs, alcohol, murder, smoking, anorexia, and affairs. Ummm... kind of heavy topics for a young crowd.

I absolutely finished it to the very end, but even the end I felt no closure. Not to mention how messed up the family becomes toward the last quarter of the book. I ended the book feeling horrible for many reasons, but it was really just a sad, dissatisfying read.

Profile Image for Terri .
245 reviews24 followers
June 28, 2016
Check out my Q+A with the author here!!

I didn’t really know much about the book, but just the title and cover alone was enough to intrigue me. I did end up having some mixed feelings about the story, but for the most part I did really enjoy the story.

Firstly, I really liked the authors writing style. It was easy to read, well sequenced, and the story had a nice flow to it. It was the sort of writing that you can imagine playing out like a movie in your head.

I felt like the story as a whole was very realistic. Everything was believable and I loved how real the characters were. They didn’t seem to be ‘fake’ at all, and the family that was portrayed seemed to be quite an accurate representation of what a family might look like who had gone through something traumatic as they had.

The story was gripping. It was a little slow to start but once I got into it I couldn’t put it down I just had to find out what happened. I was a little disappointed in the reveal as I was building it up to be bigger than it actually was however it made complete sense for the story and again, it made it seem all the more realistic. There were definitely some parts of the story that I enjoyed more than others, for example I found Dillon’s story to be extremely interesting and I loved reading about that however I found the free diving and swimming scenes didn’t capture my attention unless there was a flashback happening. So just little things like this did lessen my enjoyment of the story a little bit but this is simply a personal characteristic of mine.

I felt the romance aspect of the story was just ‘ok’ however the main focus was on the mystery surrounding Eddie so I was happy with how romance was written in and didn’t take over the story. I often feel like authors just include a romance just to attract a wider audience, but with this story I didn’t feel that at all and it felt right for the story and for the characters.

I loved the setting of the story and bringing in the Scottish slang. I’ve been really into Outlander lately (which is Scottish) and so I just really liked that it was set in Scotland.
Overall if you like YA and you’re looking for something a little bit dark and mysterious this is the book for you. Sarah Alexander is definitely an author to look out for and I’m keen to see what else she has to offer!

Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,471 reviews259 followers
June 20, 2016
Elsie has been trying to remember what happened the day her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago. One minute he was there on the beach with her, the next he was gone. Now, she has met Tay at one of her favorite hangouts - he's mysterious and her older brother, Dillon, doesn't seem to like him - and he introduces her to freediving. She hopes to find the answers she's been looking for regarding her twin's death at the bottom of the sea.

The Art of Not Breathing is Sarah Alexander's debut novel. I liked the concept of this story quite a bit - I mean, it's set in Scotland, features freediving, and takes on multiple difficult topics. Also, I did like that it reminded me of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I went in prepared to enjoy it, but unfortunately, I couldn't really get into it - although, I'll admit that it did have a few decent twists. I had several issues with it. The first being that it felt entirely too cold and detached right from the get-go when there should have had more of an emotional punch, and as a result I wasn't sure what was going on in Elsie's head, let alone what I was supposed to be thinking. That being said Elsie makes some decisions and does some things that left me scratching my head - usually when it came to boys and freediving. I was also in a mild state of confusion when it came to the flashbacks. It was a little difficult to keep up with them since most of the time I didn't know I was in the middle of a flashback until it was halfway over. Finally, I didn't really like any of the characters, or perhaps I should say that I couldn't really get invested in any of the characters, (which may go back to my first issue).

While reading, I found myself alternating between:


over the course of the novel.

Overall, Sarah Alexander's debut YA novel The Art of Not Breathing has quite a few interesting things going for it, but in the end it just wasn't for me. I think this happens to be one of those cases where I preferred the concept to the actual execution of the story. If you enjoyed We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, you may want to give this novel a shot.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 372 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.