Since her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone. Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.
The Art of Not Breathing is one of those books that really sneaks up on you. Like, painfully slow, but worth the wait. I found myself tangled in the unraveling paranoia surrounding Eddie’s disappearance, the well-being of the Main family, and holding out for hope that the days do, in fact, get better in time.
The premise is what drew me to this book. Overcoming obstacles. The deep, traumatic ones. And the downward spiral that Elsie and her family set themselves on following the disappearance of her twin brother, Eddie, on their birthday when they were children haunts these broken individuals every day. Elsie enjoys the rush of not breathing, letting the air stop, feeling as her brother might have when the waves pulled him under. The world around her is cruel: school with the catty girls, home with her parents yelling and her brother in his own world, and her memories of that day still too fuzzy to remember. Elsie finds a better solution, one that might help her recall those pivotal moments right before Eddie’s disappearance. They come in two forms: free-diving, and a boy named Tay.
Elsie’s irrationality, apathetic nature, and ill-temper made The Art of Not Breathing a difficult venture. Only when memories began to snap into place, lies untangled themselves, and Elsie’s strong will (strongest out of all her family members) buoyed the novel from spiraling out of control. The progression of her character and maturation was steady, while the journey towards finding herself and growing up without her brother tore away at her, she ultimately became a character I found myself enjoying by the end of the book.
Setting also made this novel enjoyable. It takes place in Scotland, so terminology took quite a bit of getting used to. Luckily I have friends from England, Scotland, and Wales so it didn’t take much time or confusion when figuring out school systems and such that differ from the US. For others, it might take some getting used to, and possible google searching what S6 means in terms of a school year. As well, readers might be up in arms about the sexual advances of the novel, but if you don’t know that the age of consent in Scotland is 16, then readers might be off-put by what transpires between Elsie and Tay. Even though it is completely legal.
Overall, The Art of Not Breathing came across as an alright read. One that punches you in the gut by the very end. While the novel goes into bullying, depression, and eating disorders, there is not much done to alleviate the problems that happen to Elsie and Dillon through the book, aside from the worst case scenario. I’m happy to have had the chance to read Elsie’s story, learned the truth about Eddie, watch a broken family repair itself after a tragedy, and read about an interesting new sport, let’s be honest, I will likely never try. I’ll stick to snorkeling.