Breathless is about Katie Kitrell, a strong swimmer from a dysfunctional family. Her older brother, Will, is schizophrenic, and when he becomes violent, Katie’s parents send her to boarding school to keep her safe and out of the way. Once she’s there, she slips into the lie that Will is dead in order to gain acceptance among her rich, snobby peers. She doesn’t want to become a social pariah by admitting he’s just crazy. Unfortunately, the lie is always beneath the surface, threatening to break free and destroy everything she’s built for herself.
The novel is semi-autobiographical.
Not long after I started this book, I figured I wouldn’t like it. It’s very different from my normal tastes. Right away, it was gritty – kids smoking, drinking, vomiting, getting high. The boarding school seemed to be filled with all the same people you always see in boarding schools. I didn’t like any of the characters – not Katie, not the popular and beautiful Estrella or her nice tagalong friend Lindsay, not the obnoxious roommate Mazzie, not the weirdo Christian boyfriend, not the flirting swim coach who makes them all practice until someone pukes every day. And then there was the swimming itself.
You know how when you know a subject, really know it, and then read novels about it or see it portrayed in fictional TV, it’s always wrong? Like when my husband scoffs at the inaccuracies in computer usage on crime shows. It’s hard to suspend disbelief when you know a subject well. Well, I know swimming. I was a competitive swimmer for years. I wasn’t great, but I wasn’t bad either. I don’t like reading about swimming in books or seeing it portrayed on TV because it’s always wrong. I hated A Separate Peace because of the glaring inaccuracies, like the author didn’t bother to do any research. Breathless wasn’t as bad as that by any stretch of the imagination, but it did have a lot of inaccuracies which of course irked me. I can’t help it. It’s what I know.
So with all that, you’d think I would hate the book, right? Swimming inaccuracies, hating all the characters, all the vomit and drugs and alcohol which you guys know I hate…should be the perfect Anti-Amanda book. But…but…I loved it! I don’t know if I can really explain why, but the book is just so good! Good enough to make me forget all the inaccuracies, to make me care about characters I couldn’t stand, to make me read through the gritty parts that normally make me feel so sick to my stomach I can’t continue. In spite of everything, Breathless was excellent.
I know that sounds really weird. I’ll try to explain. I think part of this has to do with the fact that the novel’s semi-autobiographical. Not that that would change my opinion in itself, but everything felt so real because it was based on real events. I could tell Warman felt everything in here, which is sometimes missing from novels. Because it was real to her, it was real to me. I was with those disliked characters every moment. I was drawn into their world in a way I haven’t experienced for awhile now. Then I realized, it wasn’t that I disliked them – I actually really did like who they were deep down; I just didn’t like the things they were doing or the way they were acting. You don’t normally get close enough to characters in a book to feel that way.
I started reading the book in the morning and couldn’t put it down all day long. Each time I had to get up to do something – change the laundry, make lunch for my kids, use the restroom, whatever – I had to give myself a minute of transition time. I’d close the book and feel surprised that I was sitting on my living room couch. I was so engrossed that I didn’t care if my boys got too loud, if I ate lunch on time, if I didn’t get much work done in the house. It was just that good. It’s another one of those books that I’d planned to give away in order to give it more blog face time (released just yesterday!), but can’t because I love it too much. Instead I’m just going to have to encourage all of you to go out and read it!