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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Engaging and exciting dystopian YA set in an oxygen-deprived world

I was excited to read this, despite there being so many dystopias around now, and I wasn't disappointed. Controlling oxygen seems such an absolute way to keep control of the people and, as with all good dystopias, there is a clear hierarchy and social control through people knowing their place and being unable to break out of it. There is also clear danger at all times, ensuring that we are gripped and committed to finding out where it will all end.

The novel is told through three different and converging perspectives: Alina, a rebel, who opens the novel with "Breathing is a right, not a privilege, so I'm stealing it back". Her voice is lively and strong from the outset, as she prepares to take action. Bea comes next, an Auxiliary (i.e. second-class citizen) who is bold and clever. The final voice we follow is Quinn's - a Premium who has a lot of privilege in the novel's world and isn't always aware of this. The narration is all first person present tense, which works well for this kind of novel, creating uncertainty and tension and removing the possibility of hindsight. We are pulled along with the characters on their adventure and it's never quite certain who will survive or succeed.

Having two female and one male protagonists is effective in offering different perspectives and likely to widen the novel's appeal. There is a degree of romance but never as more than a sub-plot - survival and rebellion are far more important ideas here, which feels realistic despite the novel's extreme scenario. Sarah Crossan writes with an emotional and psychological realism which makes the story compelling, and allowing the novel to effectively combine being an entertaining read and raising questions about commitment, bravery and privilege.

The pace of the novel is a key strength. Although Sarah Crossan has created a world that is in many ways entirely unfamiliar, she succeeds in conveying the oddities of this world without heavy exposition or backstory. In some cases, we find out the society's history along with the characters, but always in a way that works with the plot and feels natural. This is book one in a trilogy, and I will definitely be taking the first opportunity to read the next book, as the ending of this one raises the stakes even higher and leaves you wondering what on earth can happen next (yet without leaving you unsatisfied and feeling cheated, as series books can sometimes).

Overall, I would absolutely recommend this to YA readers (who don't have to actually be young adults, of course) who enjoy dystopian novels and/or thrillers. I think those who aren't necessarily keen dystopian fans will enjoy this too, as it is such a good example of the genre.

From the Back Cover:

Years after the Switch, life inside the Pod has moved on. A poor Auxiliary class cannot afford the oxygen tax which supplies extra air for running, dancing and sports. The rich Premiums, by contrast, are healthy and strong. Anyone who opposes the regime is labelled a terrorist and ejected from the Pod to die.

Sixteen-year-old Alina is part of the secret resistance, but when a mission goes wrong she is forced to escape from the Pod. With only two days of oxygen in her tank, she too faces the terrifying prospect of death by suffocation. Her only hope is to find the mythical Grove, a small enclave of trees protected by a hardcore band of rebels. Does it even exist, and if so, what or who are they protecting the trees from?

A dystopian thriller about courage and freedom, with a love story at its heart.

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Published in October by Bloomsbury
My grateful thanks to the publishers for providing a review copy
Check out the Breathe page at Bloomsbury for more information or go to Amazon UK

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