Summary: Breathing Underwater
Breathing Underwater is Sarah Allen’s sophomore middle grade book. I have yet to read her debut, but this one caught my eye.
Thirteen-year-old Olivia is excited about going on a road trip back to California with her sister and their uncle and aunt. Their family moved to Tennessee from California three years ago, and the girls had buried a time capsule before their move. Olivia’s big sister Ruth is now 16 and clinically depressed. She has good and bad days and is on medication to manage her depression. Olivia feels responsible for Ruth’s happiness and has a plan to recover their time capsule, while doing a photo project during their trip to remind Ruth of good times and make her just a little happier. But she soon finds out that with mental illness, it’s not always so simple.
I have to say it: there’s just something about the way Sarah Allen writes. Olivia’s thoughts are so sharp, so apt — anyone who’s ever had a loved one grapple with depression will empathize with her. Still, Olivia has her own challenges. She may seem happy-go-lucky, but she has a lot of anxiety about her sister’s well being, and like anyone with an ill sibling, her parents seem more concerned with Ruth, although they are not at all neglectful of Olivia.
The road trip element adds an air of excitement to a book with many feelings. Readers will enjoy being in an RV with the girls and also explore a couple of cities, including New Orleans, Louisiana. I liked seeing Ruth through Olivia’s eyes. Ruth is a teenager who enjoys music and songwriting, and who has debilitating bouts of depression. The author portrays the constant fight in Ruth’s head as she is alternatively herself to an extent and then snippy with her sister.
Finally, Olivia is a photography enthusiast who wants to become the youngest National Geographic photographer. It’s so cool and refreshing to see kids with a wide range of aspirations in middle grade literature, and Olivia is one unique protagonist.
Overall: Breathing Underwater
Breathing Underwater is a beautifully written, moving middle grade novel about sisterhood, art, and loving a sibling with a mental illness. This book portrays depression realistically, showing the highs and lows, while reminding loved ones that sometimes loving people the way you know how to is the best you can do. Fans of books about road trips, family stories or emotional stories will love this quiet middle grade novel.
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I received an eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.