Book Review: Breathless

By: Cole Gibsen
Published by: Crescent Moon
Release date: March 21, 2012
Genre: YA fantasy
270 pages
Source: Purchased by reviewer

Oh, to be a middle school aged girl and get my hands on this book. This is such a sweet story about a sweet girl whose life is far too harsh to be fair. Edith technically has all the things she needs: food, shelter, clothing, parents to supervise her. Her most basic human need, a sense of belonging and love, is left unfulfilled- until she meets Bastin.

Bastin is a merman- a prince of his tribe, to be more precise. He and Edith meet when he rescues her from a ruthless mermaid bent on destroying her. As she teaches him about human culture, he continues to rescue her, but making her feel appreciated, capable and loved. And though they know that their love can't go anywhere, since neither can survive in the other's environment, they also know that their relationship has left them both changed forever.

I love this premise, and the writing is right on target for a middle school audience: characters that are unique and fully formed without being overly complex, some action scenes, some kissy scenes that don't go too far, and lots of angsty rebellion. There were a couple of devices (the threat of being sent to military school, for example) that were on the repetitious side; a little distracting for an advanced reader, but again, perfect for a young YA audience. There are some pretty serious issues that are explored at a surface level; they are introduced, and the reader is certainly invited to think about them, but the main character is so conditioned to suppressing her emotions that those scenes are kept relatively low-key. The writing never gets preachy or in-your-face; Edith is a good, gentle soul, so seeing the world from her perspective filters out some harshness and keeps the message gentle, yet clear.

I must address the character of Sir, or I do this book, and readers, a disservice. Sir is Edith's step-father, a career military man who believes that children need structure and supervision much more than they need affection. I think Sir is the most well-developed character in the book. I think that Sir has been utterly successful in making Edith strong, because most kids who have to live with their own version of Sir crack and do some pretty angry and/or destructive things long before they are Edith's age. As much of a jerk as he is, I can only feel sadness for him. His choices have stripped from him the opportunity to be close to his daughter, a loss that he may not even realize. That's a shame, because Edith is a pretty great kid- Sir is missing out.

The first 2/3 of this book focuses on building Edith and Bastin's relationship. There is a lot of discovery late in the book, leaving opportunity for a sequel. If the author decides to write what comes next, I'll be excited to read it!

Summary from Goodreads:

Obituary-reading emo girl Edith Small is broken - the end result of forcing herself inside a mold that doesn't fit. All she wants is to conform to her strict sergeant stepfather's rules long enough to make it to graduation day. But a boat accident threatens to unravel the life Edith has worked so hard to keep. After waking up in a hospital with a lacerated shoulder, Edith fakes amnesia. Because admitting she received her injuries from a blue-haired girl who breathes underwater is all the reason Sir needs to send Edith on the first bus to military school. Safe at home, Edith struggles to put the nightmare behind her. But the mysterious creatures that live in the ocean aren't about to let her forget. After meeting Bastin - a strange boy with silver hair and black eyes - on a secluded dock, Edith learns about the war raging undersea to end human existence. A war that Edith, unwittingly, has become the key to winning. In a world where death is an ever-present shadow and motives are as dark as the bottom of the ocean, Edith must decide if her life is worth risking for a love that can't survive past the shore.