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Having never read books of this 'misery genre' before, I was pleasantly surprised by Rebecca Donovan's touching portrayal of a girl struggling with familial abuse and whether to seek help. Emma Thomas is "hiding a terrible secret"- namely that she is seriously physically and mentally abused at home where she lives with her extended family, not her parents. Her best friend is aware of this but on Emma's request keeps it quiet to prevent the Thomas family being ripped apart.
Throughout the book, it was hard to reconcile feelings of fury at the abuser with feelings of annoyance that Emma kept refusing to tell anyone who could help her- however, this is apparently a feature of abuse victims who often feel like it is their own fault.
Of course, no teen book would be complete without a romance and the romantic interest, Evan Mathews, is suitably macho and caring at the same time.
The book ends on a dramatic cliffhanger which will leave you wondering just what there is to happen in the next books. I highly recommend it, and the other books in the series as well.
Reason to breathe by Rebecca Donovan is one of the most heart breaking, emotion-inducing books I have ever read. I was so engrossed in the book, I ended up finishing it within a few days; finding time to read it whenever possible. I sometimes struggle to find books that I enjoy, but this beautifully written tale captured my heart.
The main character of the story is Emily Thomas, also known as Emma. With her father dying in a car crash at a young age, and her mother consumed by alcoholism, she lives with her aunt, uncle and two cousins whom she absolutely adores. Her aunt, Carol, abuses her. She is determined to achieve the highest grades she can in school to allow her to move to college and escape from the terror that awaits her at home. Her best friend, Sara begs for her to tell someone, but she can't. She can't rip away her cousins Jack and Leyla from their parents. She keeps her head down at school, trying to become invisible to everyone. That is, until Ewan Matthews comes into her life. It causes her to re-evaluate everything about herself. The huge question is will Ewan and Emily's love prevail? And will she finally be able to escape the hell that is her aunt?
I haven't read any books about abuse before, so this was a shocking first for me. I was so taken aback by how very open those scenes were. They are incredibly emotional and I know I teared up on numerous occasions. The scene is so well written and the emotions are so well conveyed by Donovan that it's hard not to sob along with Emily. Those parts are hard to read, but absolutely key to the story. I sometimes found myself wishing Emily would just tell someone, but her restraint not to do so just reinforces the beautiful character that she is. She is always thinking of others before herself, and I think that's what makes her such a vulnerable and loveable character.
She tends to push everyone away, which is understandable, and what also makes her friendship with Sara such an important aspect of the story. Their friendship lifted Emily's spirits, and mine along with it. They had so much fun together and talk about boys, have pamper sessions and go to parties together. It's the one part of normal life that Emily has, and I think it plays a huge part in her ability to deal with the abuse. These scenes of friendship in the book were one of my favourites because you seen Emily's character in a different light, and gave you a glimpse into what her life would be like when she finally rids herself of her aunt. It lets you hope that she does finally get there.
The love aspect of the story is something which I also really enjoyed reading. She doesn't even realise Ewan exists until he speaks to her in class, causing a little disagreement. He is intrigued by Emily and doesn't leave her alone, constantly trying to get to know her. However, she is in no way interested to get to know him. She brushes him off a lot of the time, refusing to even acknowledge him. I think this attitude intrigues Ewan even more. He's determined to get to know this girl properly and doesn't give up. To be honest, I really love the fact that Ewan doesn't give up. He sees something special in her. It's an absolutely beautifully written part of the novel. He pushes her to face her fears, try things she has never before, and brings out another side to her.
One aspect of the book that I absolutely love is the transition of Emily from an introverted, frail, very scared and very sad girl to a strong and much happier woman. Her love for Ewan is definitely something that makes her re-evaluate her self-worth and know that she shouldn't have to deal with the abuse and that deserves so much better than that. She deserves to be happy. I love how Donovan has entwined the aspects of love and abuse throughout the book. Her love for Ewan and his love for her causes her to re-evaluate who she is, what person she wants to be and why she is letting this one woman ruin her life. The love causes her to re-evaluate herself worth and know that she is worth more than the abuse that she's had to deal with for so long. His love causes her to change from a sad, frail young girl, to a beautiful, strong, courageous woman.
The other characters in the novel really make it a brilliant read. I love the kid cousins who give Emily such joy in times when she's in a lot of pain. I also love Sara's mother who treats Emily like her own and Ewan's mother who seems to be completely taken by the new addition to the family. Her uncle and Ewan's father seem to be pretty annoying characters, and I assume that Ewan's father might play quite a large part in the next book.
Overall, it's a really powerful and emotional story. It grabs your attention, and leaves you wanting to read more. It's so hard to put the book down. I would definitely recommend this book. Have tissues at the ready, because you will need them. It's a brilliantly written book, which leaves you at a HUGE cliff-hanger and I absolutely cannot wait to read the next novel.
Recently, I've become a little obsessed with contemporary romance, and have been devouring as many books as I can - some great, some terrible, others somewhere in between. Rebecca Donovan's Reason to Breathe definitely falls into the "great" category!
I'm going to be honest: I've avoided this book for a long time - far longer than I should have, it turns out. I'm not sure what it was but, regardless of the very good reviews and the low price, no matter how many times I read the summary, it just didn't seem to grab me in the way that other's have. However, a few nights ago, I noticed it was free and, too tired to do my usual scouring of Amazon, decided to just give it a try. Cue: me being up until 3am reading, when I had to wake up at 7am for work the next day.
This novel deals with a great deal of issues. It's more than just a love story - it's far more complex than that. Donovan deals with issues of love, friendship, self-esteem, coming of age, family, abuse, death... The list goes on! Yet, although so much is crammed into the book, it never feels overdone. Everything fits well together, and makes for a captivating, exciting and often distressing emotional rollercoaster, with well-rounded characters and superb twists.
Although not simply a love story, the relationship between Emma and Evan is still incredibly important. It feels real. Very real. Emma, as the narrator, is incredibly well-rounded, and the reader gets to know her very well throughout the novel. What is equally impressive, however, is the depth that Evan has, too. Like many love interests in the YA romance genre, he is attractive and charming - but there's something else underneath it all, that is often hinted at by Donovan. Like Emma, he's vulnerable and selfless. Although their connection is a deep one, it develops slowly over time - often in a very platonic environment - and so feels very realistic. Evan helps Emma to push herself, face her fears and realise her own strengths. They compliment each other in a beautiful way, and it makes for a very emotional but infinitely captivating relationship.
Of course, as well as Emma and Evan, there are many other characters in the novel - such as Carol, Sara, etc. - that flesh out the story and make this novel an almost perfect read. My only criticism is that I felt some sections were a little dragged out, but that may have been simply down to my impatience at 2am!
Overall, this story is a powerful one. It draws you in and hits you hard. Definitely recommended. (Though be sure to have the second novel in the series at hand when you come to the end - you'll need it!)
About the book
Reason to Breathe is the first book in the Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan and it is a new adult novel. The book was published by Penguin on 17th January and it is 544 pages long.
All Emma Thomas wants is to be invisible. Unlike everyone else at her school, she only has one friend and doesn't want any more. Emma buries herself in her school work, extracurricular activities and sports. It takes enough effort to hide the terrors she faces at home without having people asking a million questions about her.
New guy in school, Evan, is about to change all of that. He's the first person in a long time to show any kind of attention towards Emma and she has no idea how to react to him - short of pushing him away and telling him she doesn't want to know. However, she cannot keep herself to herself forever and as romance builds, she finds herself becoming more and more invisible every day, which is a prospect that terrifies her.
What I thought
This one has been sitting on my to be read pile for quite some time. University work had taken over my life and I just didn't have time to read my own books. Once that had died down though, this was near enough at the top of the pile.
Protagonist Emma has a terrible family life, something that we learn about very early on in this book. Her one and only friend Sara knows some of what happens at home but Emma never lets her in on the complete truth. Living with her aunt and uncle, Emma does not have the most stable of lives. Her aunt is an evil bitch who physically abuses her and makes her life a misery. Reason to Breathe is very hard hitting from the beginning, as Emma's secrets are revealed to the reader. Emma appears to just be the girl at school who wants to do well, the over achiever, but really she doesn't want people to see what a complete mess her life is.
I haven't read many books about violence and physical abuse and I found this one to be absolutely shocking. Rebecca Donovan does not shy away from the scenes where this is happening to Emma and instead, shows the horror of it completely. Certain scenes made me feel very uncomfortable and quite sick at times due to what was happening. Although this was shocking, it really made me realise just how bad Emma's life was. I don't think I would have understood as well without being shown in graphic detail. However, although her aunt is doing all kinds of horrible things to her, Emma never says anything to anyone. She tells Sara everything is ok and it's not as bad as it seems, typical qualities for someone in Emma's position I would say. While this I could understand, when some really bad things happen, Emma is too quick to say she is fine. She doesn't want her little cousins being taken away from their family and this is what I couldn't get my head around. If your aunt is beating the crap out of you, would you want two small children being around that environment with the possibility of it ever happening to them?
Although I had problems with the way Emma acted and reacted sometimes, I did like her as a character. I could understand the way she lived her life, with the sole purpose of getting through high school and away from her aunt. I do think she was a little too quick to push everyone away but I could also understand why she did it. It was nice to see Emma eventually come out of her shell though and little by little, she became a new character altogether. I also really loved her friendship with Sara. Although her only friend, Sara was someone that Emma could trust and someone who she had fun with - something very much needed in her life. I loved reading about the times where Sara and Emma were together because it made the book more light-hearted at times.
Love interest Evan was someone I absolutely loved. As the new guy in school, Emma hasn't even noticed him until he speaks up in a class. From that moment, he doesn't leave Emma alone - not in a weird, stalker way though. He likes Emma and he likes her outspoken, no bullshit attitude. The relationship between these two characters is a strange one because of Emma's situation. She tells him from the beginning that she cannot and does not do relationships or friends but he keeps trying anyway. I liked that there were no games between these two and each of them were really upfront about what they wanted with each other. I was glad to see Emma finally begin to let Evan in though as I did begin to feel a bit sorry for him.
The two aspects of romance and abuse are interwoven wonderfully and are connected the whole way throughout the novel. Reason to Breathe is about Emma really becoming herself and dealing with the life she has at home, while trying to make things better for herself. This book is absolutely heart-breaking at times but there is so much beauty within some of the other relationships. The ending was completely shocking and not at all what I was expecting. I can't wait to read the second book, Barely Breathing, to find out what happens next.