Books, Reviews

Reason to Breathe – Rebecca Donovan

Reason to Breathe

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 while 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 – but at the risk of revealing the terrible secret she’s desperate to hide. 

Reason to Breathe is an electrifying page turner from start to finish, a unique tale of life-changing love, unspeakable cruelty, and one girl’s fragile grasp of hope (Goodreads summary)

I was excited to read this book – it was successful self published before being published in the UK by Penguin and is often linked with Tammara Webber’s Easy, which I loved. It’s a contemporary YA story of a teenage girl who doesn’t live but survives because she is both emotionally and physically abused by her aunt. Desperate to keep this a secret, she puts all her efforts into excelling at school and soccer, seeing college as her way out of her hellish home life. Her best friend Sara is her only solace until new boy Evan arrives at school and pushes his way into her life.

This book is a page turner – I was eager to find out what was going to happen, the characters are well drawn and the content is emotive. The subject matter is obviously tough and some readers will find it difficult to read at times but this didn’t bother me, I like a gritty story. But what I did find lessened my enjoyment was some of the decisions the characters make. The reason why Emma keeps the abuse a secret is difficult to swallow and makes it hard to fully connect with her. I was also confused that she has a brilliant best friend and a boy who loves her who both know she’s being abused but yet they don’t tell anyone. I just couldn’t fully accept that.

The abuse scenes are raw and violent but because it’s told from Emma’s point of view they are sometimes a little sudden and confusing. She doesn’t really see it coming or what she’s being hurt with so a couple of times I had to re-read the scene to understand what had happened. I felt sometimes the story lost tension because of this. I think the author wrote the central romance very well – there is a sweet love story between Emma and Evan and you are rooting for them throughout. However, the middle of the book flags a little and a kind of love triangle is introduced. I couldn’t invest in this as much as I would have liked to, I didn’t feel it was needed.

This is a really difficult book to review because of the ending. Just when Emma finally makes the decision you wanted her to all through the book, she changes her mind and there is a sudden, shocking ending. A cliffhanger to rival a soap opera. This means the story isn’t satisfying. This book discusses important issues and hopefully will encourage teens to speak out if they are going through anything similar to Emma. There is an important lesson inside this story. It just didn’t flow for me enough to love it. I would like to read the sequels to find out what happens next, it’s hard to properly review this book as it’s such a fragment and ends on such a low note. I just hope the series will end the way I want to to.

I went onto the author’s website and she has page on there where she discusses some of the parts of the story that I found hard to accept including the ending and discusses why she wrote it the way she did. I obviously had similar feelings as others on this book and it’s interesting that she chose to defend why the characters make the decisions that they do. If you’ve read the book, check out the page here.

How do you feel about endings – should they satisfy or shock? Should an author have to defend their ending?



13 thoughts on “Reason to Breathe – Rebecca Donovan”

  1. To be honest I’m unlikely to read the book, but I did enjoy the review. You were thorough and even handed. Explained your positive and more guarded reactions to the text in a reasonable style, and showed us other places where we could check out the novel if we felt so inclined. Thoroughly professional job of work if I might say so. Well done you.

  2. I am really shallow with my pleasure reading–I like it to be fun and light and easy, with all conflicts tied up neatly with a bow at the end. I realize that authors who want to emulate real life in their stories don’t always choose happy endings, because life isn’t always full of happy endings. I often avoid books that I know will be challenging or sad (the same reason I keep avoiding The Fault in Our Stars despite its rave reviews). Every so often I’ll give one of these books a shot just to mix things up a little bit, but now that you’ve told me about the unsatisfying ending, I don’t think I’ll read this one! :-/

  3. Sounds like a bit of a frustrating book! I know the type. It’s a shame when you really try to enjoy something but logic or frustration with character choices get in the way!

  4. I have learned that an ending needs to make a reader feel surprised, yet satisfied that of course it would end this way. You don’t want a predictable ending, but you don’t want to alienate your readers either. So, I feel like a combo of ‘shocked’ and ‘satisfying’ is the best kind of ending.

  5. I find the endings that aren’t happy linger with me far longer. When a book ties up too nicely, it’s satisfying but then I move on. The Great Gatsby, Ethan Frome–those books stayed with me decades later because they didn’t end happily. At the time I felt unsatisfied but now I kinda appreciate how much more realistic they were.

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