Book Review: Breathing Under Water

Title: Breathing Under Water

Author: Sophie Hardcastle

Genre: YA / Love & Loss / Contemporary

Pages: 310

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Nineteen minutes and eleven seconds separated us at birth. On the official documentation, he is older . . . Although it really has nothing to do with age. What it really means is that I am, and have always been, second.

Grace was born 19 minutes after her twin brother Ben, and she has always felt like his shadow. Ben is the golden boy; attractive, popular, great at surfing, the seemingly favourite child. Ben is the heart of their family, and the spirit of their friendship group. So, when tragedy strikes, Grace finds her life spiralling out of control. A tirade of drugs, sexual encounters and broken friendships ensues as Grace tries to find herself and regain control of her life.

I fell in love with Sophie’s memoir, Running Like China, and was eager to get my hands on Breathing Under Water. The cover is so beautiful and simple. After my big book spend-up at the beginning of July I decided to delve into this novel first. I read it in a couple of days but have been sitting on my review for a few weeks because I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt.  The truth is; I liked Breathing Under Water, but I didn’t love it.

The plot moved a little too slowly for my liking. The main tragic event happened around the half-way mark. The first half of the novel was basically a setup and the second half was the story of Grace’s downward spiral. I really enjoyed the first half; getting to know the characters, immersing myself in their coastal lifestyle. It was fun. The second half was obviously not meant to be fun. I just felt like it dragged on for a little too long – nothing really substantial or mind-blowing happened – there was just a lot of drug and alcohol abuse.

The writing style is very ornamented. At times I felt myself being swept away by the words. There are some absolutely stunning descriptions in here; of the way it feels to surf, the countryside and beach, the way that grief aches and the way that families and friendships can fall apart in the face of tragedy. Other times, I felt that the description was a little over the top and it actually detracted from what was happening.

The characters were engaging and complex. I really loved all of the characters in this book. Grace was interesting and obviously had a lot of internal conflict – she absolutely loved her brother but always felt that she was second-best compared to him. She was quieter and at times a little weird. Her downward spiral was pretty crazy and she pushed a lot of people away. I got so frustrated with her that I wanted to shake her at times and tell her to wake up! I guess grief does strange things to people and this story definitely shows that.

The way that Grace and Jake go completely off the rails in the face of tragedy is a very realistic portrayal of what can happen – and I think that it’s important that teenagers read about this kind of thing. Grace had a lot of good friends like Mia who tried her best to help her, despite everything that Mia herself was going through. Jake was a little crazy and unpredictable, and together he and Grace pushed the boundaries. Harley was super-sweet and I wish he had actually been in the novel a bit more than he was. The relationship between Grace’s parents at this difficult time was also super-complex and interesting to read. Overall I really loved all of the characters and found myself fully invested in them. I felt like Grace grew a lot throughout the novel – where the plot-movement was lacking Grace’s character trajectory helped to make up for it.

This book made me super-hungry and left me dying to learn how to surf. This was obviously not the purpose of the story, but some of the descriptions of the food cooked by Grace’s mum were very enticing! And the way surfing is described just sounds so mind-blowingly amazing I’m seriously considering saving up for a surfboard.

Overall, I really enjoyed Breathing Under Water but I didn’t absolutely love it. It’s a good read, but in the end I felt a little underwhelmed. The end of the story wrapped things up fairly neatly and realisticly, but there was nothing that I felt was particularly poignant or game-changing. A lot of other reviews I’ve read have absolutely raved about Breathing Under Water, so I guess it obviously depends on your reading style and what you like. I absolutely love the premise and I think this story is important, but I found it very slow-moving and not easy to connect with.

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