Reason to Breathe by Rebecca Donovan
Emma—Emily—Thomas is good at hiding despite the fact that she’s very involved in school. She’s a straight ‘A’ student and the editor of the school newspaper as well as a track and basketball star. Yet she continually has the sort of accidents that baffle her teachers and coaches. How could such a gifted athlete fall on the ice, burn her arm, be covered in bruises from tripping and running into things?
What Emma is hiding at school only her best friend, Sara, knows. After her father dies when Emma is twelve, her mother become an alcoholic and is incapable of caring for her. Emma goes to live with her father’s brother, George, and his wife, Carol in Weslyn, Connecticut, a town of affluent, often self-centered people.
Carol resents Emma’s presence in the household. She preys upon Emma when no one else is looking. Emma understands that if she tells anyone about the abuse she suffers at Carol’s hands, Carol and George’s two younger children could be taken away from them and placed into foster care. And Emma would never want to do that to the cousins she loves. So she remains silent through all the torment, becoming the perfect victim. Her only hope is to get into a good university as far away as possible and use the Social Security death benefit from her father to pay for school.
Sara has been sworn to secrecy about Emma’s abuse and pain. But she’s having a harder and harder time sticking to that promise. Once the charming Evan Mathews, new guy in school, enters Emma and Sara’s lives, all three begin to question the plan for Emma. Because when Evan walks into the room, love steps in with him. And now that Emma is finally truly loved, she starts to understand what she deserves as a human being.
High school housekeeping: OK, yes, I’ll admit right away that those little irritants I often complain of grabbed my attention in Reason to Breathe. (Need an extra adverb anyone?) And I did find it odd that everyone in the entire school was more interested in Emma’s love life than they were in their own, watching her every public move and endlessly analyzing her motives. (Yes, we all want to be the big rock-star fish in our little pond, but we have to concede that our peers have their own lives to live—and their own hormones to deal with.)
I’m a tough critic. However, on the whole, Reason to Breathe very much moved me. A few times, to tears. Emma’s Aunt Carol is a wonderful portrayal of the narcissist next door, the kind of person who picks a victim and then blames all of her life’s problems on that victim. The blaming—and the physical abuse and mental abuse that accompany it—are irrational. And because they are irrational, the victim never knows when the next hit is coming. No matter how hard Emma works not to make waves, no matter how good she is, she will be punished.
Now that I’ve read it, I am certain that Reason to Breathe can have wider appeal at my library, and that I need to purchase more than the three copies I have and add it to book talks before the movie (or movies) come out. Because teens are just like adults in this respect—they want to read the book before they see the movie so that they can tell everyone how much better the book is!