My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: I think most people know from my status updates on this that I didn’t like this book, but I think reflecting upon the work on a number of different levels, it’s more than just one element or the measure that this fell into many New Adult cliches. This book really got under my skin on how poorly it was written, how poorly it treats some very weighted, but very real issues (PTSD, depression, etc.) and how it manipulates dramatic scenarios to the point that none of it felt real. There is a part of me that’s interested in hearing Liviey’s story, because that’s contained in the sequel, but honestly? I don’t think the writing will carry that well based on what I see in this book. It may be subject to change/improve, but I honestly have no idea. This just wasn’t done well. I have many bases to cover in the full review, but I’ll try to be as concise about it as I can, and note some of my respective issues with it.
I sat on my hands intentionally before writing a review on “Ten Tiny Breaths” because I felt I needed to think about what didn’t work with this book. Let alone the fact that the book upset and disappointed me on a number of different levels. I could go into an extended discussion on how there’s really nothing new that distinguishes “Ten Tiny Breaths” from other titles in the “coined” New Adult genre, but for me, this actually could’ve been a much better novel if the writing wasn’t so terrible among other aspects. It makes many basic mistakes on the level of the narrative aspects of the writing as well as the presentation of many different issues. And it’s emotionally manipulative to top it off.
Some of you might be wincing at this point and say “Rose, that’s harsh” but when I say emotionally manipulative here, I don’t say it with much snark or mirth. I’m saying that the story – in technical terming – manipulates the emotional resonance in a horrible way here. Whether it was intentional or unintentional, I don’t know, but I really think this story could’ve been so much stronger than what it was – I saw where it was going, I saw what it was trying to do. It just didn’t handle it well at all; I’ve read stories in other terms that have taken these issue and made them hit home with so much more impact. Further, there were a number of things in this story that really offended me. I’ll address much of that shortly.
Let’s begin by talking about Kacey, the protagonist. She’s a tough cookie for sure considering she’s suffering from a heavy measure of PTSD after a horrific accident in which her family, boyfriend, and pretty much everyone she loved was killed except for her and her little sister Livie, who happened to stay home that day. Kacey was the only survivor of the crash. I would expect her to be bitter, go through the motions, and be psychologically damaged. I would expect her to lash out and have trouble with relationships and have recollections from the crash, alongside nightmares that perhaps her family (Poor, poor Livie) would have to contend with from time to time. Those factors I didn’t mind at all. I also didn’t mind the fact that she ran off with her little sister (15-year old Livie, who was pretty much the major character I liked somewhat consistently in this book, even if she wasn’t always at the forefront). Livie was nearly molested by their uncle, and that prompted Kacey to pick up their things and get away from home. I actually didn’t like how the book depicted them leaving home – what with some drug induced manipulations and whatnot, but I figured for the sake of the story, I’d follow it.
Kacey really turned out to be a horrible protagonist in more ways than one, basically coming across in spurts as the female version of Travis Maddox from Beautiful Disaster. She slut shames every woman she comes across (including her neighbor Storm, who I have to say was a nice character in framework and I would’ve liked to see more of her than Kacey). Kacey uses and loses people she sleeps with, thinks every man she comes across is a misogynistic twat (which to be honest, every single male character in this really is misogynistic in some way, including the hero). Kacey has a penchant for violence and she either thinks of beating down the people she’s around or she actually does so in physical measures (I’m trying to figure out how the author thought this was okay?). There’s also another confrontation where she came close to killing a man with a broken bottle. I’m not going to say she didn’t have her reasons because of events, but I still couldn’t wrap my head around her actions even in context with what occurred.
On the level of the writing in this, it was very tedious to move through – Kacey does a lot of info-dumping and repeating of the accidents events in bits and pieces up to the actual recall, which makes the narrative overbearing and overselling/stating the point. In a more mature narrative, it probably wouldn’t have been a problem, but the writing is juvenile the way it’s presented. Melodramatic even. Cliched, certainly, to the level of committing several offenses. I could talk about the slut shaming, body shaming, bitch slamming, sexual objectification, misogyny among other things that goes along with other NA reads in current spectra, but I want to turn attention briefly to another problematic issue that rears its head in this novel: racial appropriation.
Yeah, I’m going there. Pretty much the only two minority characters featured in this book are sexually objectified and/or shamed in some way. They’re both strippers, and while their occurrence may fit somehow in the context of where Kacey works, I didn’t get any other impression in this novel other than they were there as diversity set pieces. The Asian stripper was shamed because of a certain way she could move her body (and that had the underlying subtext of denouncing her), while a Native American stripper is shamed in a manner by doing a version of a “rain dance” when she’s nearly naked.
I’m going to be blunt with saying this – characters of color are NOT an author’s personal set pieces to be moved around willy nilly. You can’t just throw them into a scene and make stereotypical assumptions/statements and think “Oh hey, I’m being diverse!”. Because like the assumption of portraying a Native American with stereotypical feathers and doing some sort of dance in a strip club when that “dance” has significant symbolic value to a tribe (who isn’t even really named, it’s just following stereotype), you use it in the wrong way. You shame the group, you offend the group, and it’s a HORRIBLE way to portray any person or group. Authors, don’t do this. Please. When portraying any group of color, think about how you’re portraying them. Seriously, please THINK.
Moving on with the story dynamic, Kacey, as the protagonist, overfixates her attention on her love interest Trent, who when her “walls” aren’t being broken down just by being in his presence, she spends long passages talking about his physical features – the specks in his eyes, his physical body and “looking him up and down” (when she isn’t being looked up and down herself). I’m not saying that physical objectification doesn’t exist in other narratives, but it came to a point I wanted to say that the author was doing it TOO much to the point where I just felt ill at ease with it and noted the repetition. Kacey somehow pours all of her trust into being with this guy even when she doesn’t know much about him, and shames any woman who comes close to him.
On that note, let’s talk about Trent. Or maybe I shouldn’t, because when this novel was all said and done, I wanted to say “Screw Trent” with the power of a thousand…somethings. Trent is emotionally manipulative in his own way – I cannot with people who use sexual encounters as emotional leverage to get the other person they love to do things. Kacey is obviously a damaged person. He recognizes this, tells her to get help even when she’s resistant against him. Kacey does call him out on the fact of witholding sexual encounters to make her admit things she doesn’t want to admit (and yet she does them anyway). Yet he’s just as reluctant to talk about his own past (then again Kacey doesn’t ask).
When a certain twist in the narrative comes to the forefront that involves his and Kacey’s relationship, I thought that could’ve been used as a conflict of worthiness if it was done right (even if I didn’t like some of the implications behind it). Yet, the events after said twist were so creepy and unrealistic that I wanted to throw my computer against the wall. It was manipulative, championing, deceitful and made this one of the worst narratives I’ve read this year for its subject matter. I do not understand why stalkerish relationships in the NA genre are somehow championed and made to be romantic. This book is especially creepy considering the knowledge Trent has before this point and what he did with those measures, and it’s equally unrealistic to think that with the emotional turmoil that Kacey has been through before and after these events (which I would say is so overblown with drama that I felt my head rushing with blood), that everything would turn out to be just fine.
In a line from a Maroon 5 song, and I run the risk of being slightly cheese with saying this: “It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, it’s compromise that moves us along.” That actually could’ve went along with this particular narrative’s thematic, but the story felt so contrived and didn’t deal with any of the issues realistically for the exceedingly heavy emotional weights presented here. It was pure melodrama and played right along with the cliche that “love conquers/heals all.”
I’m sorry to be the bummer of the party, but that’s not true. Not the reality for who suffers from PTSD/depression. It can take a long time for someone like Kacey to heal IRL, and there could’ve been so many more constructive, fuller ways for her to come to terms with what happened. Hinging her recovery on Trent and who he reveals himself to be after the twist plays into a horrible mentality that Kacey can’t heal herself unless it’s by loving someone or having someone heal her, rather than healing herself. The twist and the revelations behind that twist didn’t make that any better with what she emotionally goes through. I felt sick with some of the apologetic bargaining that Kacey’s therapist forced her through. The only time I think I actually felt for Kacey’s coming to terms was when her sister Livie pretty much told her to buck up and that she was tired of going through the same things that her older sister put her through. I wanted to hug Livie after that because she was spot on. I just wish that there were more of that actual, genuine resonance in this story than there was.
I cannot recommend this book to anyone, because for a narrative on PTSD/depression, finding love, and showing the developing relationship of two people in difficult circumstances here was VERY mediocre, melodramatic B.S., and perpetuates so many stereotypes in the NA genre that I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around. There are SO MANY novels that deal with this theme better and it’s just a matter of looking. This was very weak in comparison, and champions a lot of problematic ideals for the sake of drama.
Overall score: 0.5/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Atria.