Book Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Sarah Crossan
Greenwillow Books, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-06-211869-1

From the publisher—

Inhale. Exhale.
Breathe . . .
The world is dead.
The survivors live under the protection of Breathe, the corporation that found a way to manufacture oxygen–rich air.

Alina has been stealing for a long time. She’s a little jittery, but not terrified. All she knows is that she’s never been caught before. If she’s careful, it’ll be easy. If she’s careful.

Quinn should be worried about Alina and a bit afraid for himself, too, but even though this is dangerous, it’s also the most interesting thing to happen to him in ages. It isn’t every day that the girl of your dreams asks you to rescue her.

Bea wants to tell him that none of this is fair; they’d planned a trip together, the two of them, and she’d hoped he’d discover her out here, not another girl.

And as they walk into the Outlands with two days’ worth of oxygen in their tanks, everything they believe will be shattered. Will they be able to make it back? Will they want to?

The premise of Breathe, that population has gotten so out of control that we cut down all trees to use the land for farming to feed all those people, is an interesting one but essentially unworkable. Yes, there’s no doubt that we could be far more conservative of our natural resources but it really doesn’t make much sense that this scenario could come to pass with no indication that the worldwide scientific and health communities tried to find other ways to feed people. Also, why is it that a corporation that distributes air through scuba tanks is in total control when such tanks have been in use in today’s world for many years and come from many sources? And what on earth is “The Switch” that the author refers to so frequently? If the outer Zones of the pod contain people who are seemingly worthless to the authorities, why do they prevent them from leaving?

Clearly, much more worldbuilding information is needed but perhaps we’ll get it in the next book. In the meantime, let’s look at the characters. Bea, Alina and Quinn, along with Quinn’s father and Cain Knavery, the Pod Minister, are fairly well fleshed out—at this stage, I think Alina is my favorite because she’s by far the most interesting—but I felt very little connection to any of the secondary characters and, in truth, they don’t seem to be very important for the story. Perhaps the second book will make them more relevant and engaging.

There are ominous hints that the dreaded Love Triangle will occur but, in fact, it doesn’t really. There’s no Insta-Love either, thank heavens, since Quinn is oblivious for a long time to the feelings of one of the girls. I appreciate the author’s restraint in these relationship matters and the way she allows the boyfriend-girlfriend thing to develop without dwelling too much on all the teen angst so often prevalent in YA fiction. When you get right down to it, friendship takes precedence over weak romance and that’s quite all right with me.

The author does have a way with words and, despite what I felt were shortfalls, she managed to keep me reading. I liked the multiple points of view narration (although I really don’t like the present tense that the majority of YA authors insist on using) and there’s no question the premise, with all its flaws, is different and has a lot of potential. I hope Ms. Crossan will step up the pace and energize her characters in the second book because I will definitely be reading it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2012.