Set on the Carolina shore, Breathing by Cheryl Renée Herbsman focuses on Savannah (ironically named for Savannah, Georgia) the summer she meets Jackson Channing. When Savannah was young, her father left the family, and since then Savannah has been faced with severe asthma attacks that occur more frequently than she would like to admit, especially to the handsome Jackson. His presence not only captures the attention of her heart, but allows her to breathe a little more easily. When Jackson has to return to his mother, Savannah must learn how to make a relationship work long-distance and how to breathe without anyone else’s help.
I know that this book has been receiving a lot of attention for months now, but the truth is, I didn’t like it that much and don’t know if I understand all of the fuss. I thought the premise was brilliant and unique, and hoped that it would be enough to carry the book (plus I adored the cover, so I admit that I did set my hopes high before even opening to the first page). My main problem with Breathing was the Southern dialect (so much so that I had to put the book down several times and almost didn’t finish it). Maybe it is just because I’m a northerner, but the accent seemed forced and overdone to the point where it interrupted the flow of the novel.
Beyond this, Savannah wasn’t a particularly amiable protagonist due to her immaturity and irresponsibility. While I understand that Breathing is trying to capture teenage love, her behavior often made me doubt her age and mistake her for a 13-year-old. This made it harder for me to buy that what Savannah and Jackson are sharing is true love, as she is not understanding of his situation and solves this by whining more than anything else. Also, what frustrated me the most was Savannah’s complete dependence on Jackson. Even at the end of the novel, Savannah does not demonstrate any real initiative or control over her life. The story is supposed to be one of Savannah coming into her own, but rather she loses herself when she meets Jackson (safe to say I wouldn’t recommend this to strong feminists). So, at its heart, Breathing is a good love story if you aren’t easily irritated and can overlook the dialect. 5 out of 10.
P.S. There's bonus material for Breathing at Cheryl Renée Herbsman's website, including character sketches, which you can check out.