Reason to Breathe by Rebecca Donovan
Series: Breathing #1
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance
Release Date: May 2011
Format: Trade Paperback
"No one tried to get involved with me, and I kept to myself. This was the place where everything was supposed to be safe and easy. How could Evan Mathews unravel my constant universe in just one day?"
In the affluent town of Weslyn, Connecticut, where most people worry about what to be seen in and who to be seen with, Emma Thomas would rather not be seen at all. She’s more concerned with feigning perfection while pulling down her sleeves to conceal the bruises - not wanting anyone to know how far from perfect her life truly is. Without expecting it, she finds love. It challenges her to recognize her own worth - but at the risk of revealing the terrible secret she’s desperate to hide.
Reason to Breathe is an electrifying page turner from start to finish, a unique tale of life-changing love, unspeakable cruelty, and one girl’s fragile grasp of hope.
I'll start by saying that Reason to Breathe was not what I was expecting. And I'm sure I allowed that to somewhat color my feelings for the book. For some reason I had been convinced for years (ever since I first bought a copy and placed it on my bookshelf where it sat for at least two years) that this was a new adult book. So I was geared up for plenty of grown-up relationships and drama. However, Reason to Breathe is decidedly young adult and instead provided plenty of high school relationships and drama. Not a bad thing but, like I said, I was totally expecting something else and I spent the entire book trying to adjust.
Sixteen year old Emma lives a life of secrets. With her mother unable to care for her, she lives with her aunt and uncle. Instead of a stable home life, away from the chaos of life with her alcoholic mother, she endures constant verbal and physical abuse from her aunt who resents her very presence. Emma refuses to report the abuse for fear that her young cousins would suffer the consequences and lose a mother who, to them, is loving and caring.
I survived by keeping my emotions in check - by maintaining my composure and tucking it all away. - EmmaThen the handsome and persistent Evan enters her life and suddenly Emma is willing to risk the delicate balance she maintains in order to experience the headiness of a new relationship. Evan was a sweetheart and it felt completely realistic that Emma would be willing to risk so much for a chance at some normalcy and excitement. Her friend Sara, initially the only one who knew the secret of Emma's home life and having been sworn to secrecy, was a good friend and did what she could to help Emma. However, there did come a point where I wished Sara would ignore Emma's demands and just tell someone. As the abuse at home escalated, and Emma remained resolute to keep the peace and just bide her time until she could leave, I was desperate for her situation to change by any means necessary.
My world was delicately balanced, but the scales never hung even. When something improved, something else had to crumble. Accepting this would be the hardest thing I'd ever had to learn, and even when I came to know it as true, it still crushed me. - EmmaMy issue with Reason to Breathe is that often it seemed the relationship drama took center stage over the very serious abuse happening behind closed doors at home. I loved that Emma was getting a small taste of freedom, spending time with Evan, going to parties with her friends - but chapter after chapter would go by with her home life being glossed over and all the focus on time spent with Evan, jealousies over other girls, and other drama that seemed petty in comparison to what Emma was dealing with at home. This may be a by-product of my initial thoughts that this was a new adult novel and so the high-drama of the high school set felt more pronounced, but it's something I noticed again and again.
I enjoyed Emma as a character and admired her strength and self-sacrifice (even though she took the self-sacrifice to dangerous lengths). And Evan was such a wonderful addition to Emma's life. Once he started to suspect/know what was happening to Emma he was desperate to protect her. This wasn't a case of knight-in-shining-armor or boy-saves-the-day but just a boyfriend horribly worried about his girlfriend and feeling helpless to make her safe. There was a definite push and pull to their relationship. Emma was determined to keep Evan at arm’s length in order to keep her home life a secret, but at the same time she was craving the closeness and the genuine care and love that Evan had for her.
"I love that picture," he admitted softly. "I think it's because I love the girl in that picture." - EvanI grew frustrated with Emma when things ended with Evan and she started seeing Drew. She felt the need to break up with Evan because she could not afford to have anyone close to her and learn her secret. So why didn't the same hold true for Drew? It made no sense and had me wanting to throttle Emma for being so capricious. Thankfully Evan was as patient as he was sweet and loving.
"I don’t know how to fit you into my world without hurting you too.” The truth in my words revealed more than he’d ever know.
“Don’t worry about hurting me,” he said calmly. “I like being a part of your world, and I understand that it’s more complicated than you’re willing to share with me. But I’ll respect that for now.”And then that ending, oh my goodness. I was so hopeful… and then that cliffhanger. I definitely want to pick up the second book in this trilogy soon and learn what becomes of Emma. It helps that Donovan’s writing flows so easily and pulls you into the story from the beginning. She has a way of eliciting an emotional response without falling into mawkishness. And I’m sure there’s plenty more emotion to come as the series continues. I can only hope there’s a happy ending at the finish.