Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Reason to Breathe (The Breathing Series #1) by Rebecca Donovan

"No one tried to get involved with me, and I kept to myself. This was the place where everything was supposed to be safe and easy. How could Evan Mathews unravel my constant universe in just one day?"

In the affluent town of Weslyn, Connecticut, where most people worry about what to be seen in and who to be seen with, Emma Thomas would rather not be seen at all. She’s more concerned with feigning perfection—pulling down her sleeves to conceal the bruises, not wanting anyone to know how far from perfect her life truly is. Without expecting it, she finds love. It challenges her to recognize her own worth―at the risk of revealing the terrible secret she’s desperate to hide.

One girl’s story of life-changing love, unspeakable cruelty, and her precarious grasp of hope: Reason to Breathe is the first installment of the acclaimed Breathing Series. 


I picked up this book because it had been recommended to me wholeheartedly by several people that I met at a book signing earlier this year, and because I had seen more rave reviews on this series than I can count. From the synopsis, I knew it wouldn't be a happy story so I delayed reading it for months, but something kept pulling it to the top of my list so I decided to finally give it a chance.

Having just finished it, I'm still reeling.  I decided to write down my initial reaction while I was processing, but words are lost in the sadness & anger.  I wanted to love this book along with everyone else, & part of me does...but another part of me is hurting too badly to accept the love I might otherwise feel.

I went in expecting a story of hope & love in the midst of tragedy.  Instead I found a story of survival...and barely surviving at that.  Emma Thomas is a girl who lost her parents at a young age...her father to a car accident, and her mother to disinterest & alcohol.  She was taken in by her father's brother & his family.  It's never clear how or why she ended up with them, but it is clear that she isn't welcome.  Her aunt, Carol, resents every breath she takes & shows it in varying levels of violence.  Emma is expected to keep the house clean & perform chores on a regular basis, but is otherwise expected to be invisible.  She falls in line because she loves her niece & nephew and doesn't want to make life hard for them.  She tells herself that she can't let anyone know what is going on because she doesn't want to hurt them by having their mother taken away.

I went back and forth between wanting to hug & comfort Emma to wanting to talk some sense into her.  It's obvious with each interaction that Carol is a cruel woman.  The acts of violence she performs are so calculated & twisted that there is no way to believe that if Emma just sticks it out until graduation that all will be well in the household.  Once Emma is gone, it would only be a matter of time before Carol needed another target for her anger & the sweet, innocent children Emma is trying so hard to protect would be pulled into her nightmare.

She finds moments of escape with her only friend, Sara, who knows what is going on without Emma having to tell her, and she finds a glimmer of hope & love when she meets Evan Matthews, a boy who makes her feel despite the wall of numbness she has so carefully constructed around herself.  I'm resisting saying more because I don't want to add spoilers to my review, and I'm also holding out on giving my true opinion until I finish the series.

What I can tell you is that I couldn't put it down.  I found myself grabbing moments whenever & wherever I could to keep reading.  I carried my kindle around the house with me & synced my phone app when I needed to leave so that I could read whenever I had a minute.  Emma, Sara, & Evan were so compelling that I wanted to know where the story was going & wanted to see Emma escape & find happiness.

I can also tell you that if you make it to the end of this book, you'll have to pick up Barely Breathing soon after.  I resisted the urge so that I could record my thoughts on Reason to Breathe before they merged with the rest of the series, but I promise you, I'll be reading more before the night is over...and may still be reading come morning.

All that said...do I recommend it? Check back with me after I read book three!

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