Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Sarah Crossan

Greenwillow Books
373 pages
YA / Dystopian / Ecological Disaster

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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.

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.

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.

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?

Poor Breathe. It deserved better treatment than being left behind for over a week while I gallivanted around reproducing historical duels out of beans and stuck my five month old niece in a cardboard castle so that we could pretend to rescue and/or fight her. Instead it was left lonely on my couch while I did crazy GISHWHES-ian things for a week and the ensuing cold plunge back into reality once the scavenger hunt was finished.

Despite the expanse of time that passed between reading most of the book and finishing the last 50 pages, I enjoyed Breathe. Bubble worlds fascinate me and this one is full of conspiracies, environmental issues and teenage angst. Simply by placing one obstacle – though a major one – inside an otherwise familiar world, Sarah Crossan creates a dystopian place full of class systems and discontent that was both familiar and unreal while still being completely believable.

Somewhere along the lines, all the trees and plants and oceans began to die, so the oxygen content in the air decreased significantly. A corporation, creatively calling itself Breathe, created safe bubbled havens for a select few people to escape the coming ecological doom of the earth. Inside this world, oxygen is paid for, so money and now oxygen tanks become symbols of power. Our story picks up a few decades later with three teenagers, one of the very wealthy, Quinn, and two of the very poor from families who are too poor to purchase excess oxygen for things like exercise and other activities that promote heavy breathing. Bea is a smart, motivated girl in love with her best friend, the wealthy Quinn, while Alina spends her time as a trainee of the ecological resistance group. When their paths cross as Quinn and Bea head outside the bubble for a weekend camping trip, everything sort of falls apart. Things start getting blown up, people are getting stabbed and the safe bubble world they call home just might not be so safe.

I enjoyed Crossan’s characters. They felt real and distinctively different. Alina is the revolutionary with big ideals and the courage to attempt to stand up to oppressors. Bea is safe, quite and smart, hoping to make advancement in life because of her intellect, all the while wishing her best friend would fall madly in love with her. And then there is Quinn, who is a real dopey teenage boy used to getting his way because his family is rich and he’s attractive. He has no clue that Bea is in love with him and spends his time chasing after other girls.

The interpersonal relationships between the three shift as the plot allows them to become better characters, older and smarter to how the world really works around them. I didn’t feel like there were any leaps in character development or that attitudes changed uncharacteristically. Crossan is really good at naturally developing characters so that it doesn’t obviously intrude on the plotting. Her bad guy characters are extremely over the top, but act as a nice counterpoint to the more realistic leads.

I think I would have really enjoyed Breathe had I read it all in one go (or several go-s over a few days). When I started I had a hard time putting it down, wanting to read just one more chapter before going to bed. Ecological disasters make for interesting backdrops for dystopian stories and though this one has hints of The Hunger Games in the sense of class warfare and government officials, it still felt new and I enjoyed spending time with these characters. I look forward to see more of the larger world in the rest of the series because, at the end, I’m left with questions of how the rest of the world changed due to the lack of oxygen. An interesting thing to ponder until the sequel.


I received an ARC copy of Breathe from the lovely people at Greenwillow, in return this is my honest review. I'd like to apologize to Sarah Crossan for the gap in my reading timeline.