Book Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan
What's it About?
Breathe is a Young Adult novel published by Bloomsbury in 2012. It describes a desolate world devoid of trees, plants and air. Survival means submitting to the regime which rules the Pod, where air consumption is carefully monitored to the extent that people are scared to walk at anything more than a slow stroll. Kissing uses too much oxygen and so it is frowned upon. Adults have to work long hours in tedious jobs just to pay for the oxygen they need to stay alive, and having children is a luxury that some people simply can't afford. Retirement is not an option.
Some people in the Pod live like this, anyway. Poor people, called Auxiliaries, live these dull lives of drudgery.
If you're a Premium, however, then life is wonderful. You can have as much oxygen as you wish and squander it how you wish. For you, life is a cushy pleasure trip of lovely homes and meaningful occupations.
Any rebels are thrust from the Pod to die in the airless world beyond. They can either die quickly due to being unable to breathe, or die slowly when their cumbersome solar-powered air machines malfunction, or die at the hands of one of the dangerous drifters who will kill for food, water or a spare solar-powered air machine.
But there are rebels, and Alina is a young member of the resistance who escapes capture only with the help of an Auxiliary girl, Bea, and a Premium boy, Quinn.
Together they defy danger to travel outside of the Pod in search of a rebel community hidden from the leaders of the Pod. However, one of these leaders is also Quinn's father - and he wants his son back.
About the Author
Sarah Crossan already graduated in 1999 from Warwick University with a degree in philosophy and literature before deciding to train as an English and drama teacher at Cambridge University. She then completed her MA in creative writing, and works to promote creative writing in schools.
In 2018, she was appointed Laureate na nÓg, or Irish Children's Laureate.
In 2017, the Dutch translation of her novel One won the Dioraphte Literature Prize, while the German translation received a double shortlisting for the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis.
2016 was quite a year for Crossan, too, as she won the CILIP Carnegie Medal as well as the YA Book Prize, the CBI Book of the Year award and the CLiPPA Poetry Award.
Her novel, The Weight of Water, which was published in 2011, has been nominated for The Weight Of Water - a book that has been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, the Hazelgrove Book Award, the CBI Awards, the WeRead Prize, UKLA Book Award and CLPE Poetry Award.
Crossan was born in Dublin, Ireland, and emigrated to England was she was six years old. She has also lived in America. To date, Crossan has eight published novels.
What's to Like?
I found this book to be a fun, quickly-paced read. While obviously dystopian in theme, the novel also carries a strong environmental message. It holds a mirror up to our own Western societies and our rampant consumerism, and looks at one possible consequence of this: what if we kill the planet?
The descriptions of life inside the Pod are handled adeptly. One the one hand, we have the pristine, spacious and desirable homes of the Premiums which could rival any property featured on Escape to the Sunshine. Theirs is a life of privilege and comfort. They have the best of everything, including the best air. One the other hand, there are the squalid apartment blocks where the Auxiliaries live packed together so tightly that little light can filter down to the warren of crime-ridden alleyways.
Of course, such division of wealth and opportunity creates resentment and rebellion.
To rebel is to risk everything, even life itself. But our trio of unwitting heroes, who are portrayed well as they squabbling, jealous, idealistic and anxious teenagers that they are, do just that as they embark on a dangerous adventure to locate a rebel stronghold.
Their journey goes awry, of course, but that's an inevitable aspect of any successful quest story.
Characters in the novel are portrayed well. Each is well-rounded, with nice and not-so-nice traits which makes them more believable. The plot progresses at a steady pace, with plenty of skirmishes and near-misses and mishaps.
I found Breathe to be imaginative, lively and entertaining.
What's Not to Like?
There really isn't much to grumble about with this lively page-turner.
The only minor detail which stood out to me was when our heroic trio hid from the air-borne "zips" which can detect people due to their body heat. While Bea, Alina and Quinn quickly made themselves cold by undressing, rolling in snow and pouring water over their heads to escape detection, the radiant heat from the tank's engine, which they had been travelling in, would have glowed magnificently for the zip's sensors and so betrayed the teenagers' proximity.
I knew an elderly man who'd been a sergeant in a tank regiment, helping to maintain the anarchy which gripped Europe after 1945 until order was gradually restored some 18 months later. He told me how the heat of the tank's engines were such that the elected chef would cook entire dinners from it. Well, the regiment had to eat somehow!
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© 2019 Adele Cosgrove-Bray