I listened to the bulk of this on my birthday and I think the reason why this gets three stars is mainly for Kate Rudd’s well-articulated performance in the audiobook version. Her narration of Emma and the other characters in this unfolding story was on-point and kept me listening throughout the narrative. Rudd is one of my favorite audio narrators because of the pull her voice and performance gives to a story. I’m fortunate to have both audio versions of this book and the follow-up, so this will lead into my reading the ARC version of the third book very soon.
Rebecca Donovan’s “Reason To Breathe” reminded me of a Korean drama whose name eludes me for the moment, but if it’s any indication to the comparison – this story is filled with so. much. drama. It was a rollercoaster ride, sometimes taking me to the precipice of its respective conflicts with intrigue, but I’m not sure if it was all in good form. Donovan’s work is well structured, features fluid prose, but doesn’t stray far from some cliches that I saw coming, and I’ll admit that impacted my perception of the story and kept me from being more taken by it.
Emma is a young woman counting down the days until she graduates high school. She lives with an abusive aunt, her neglectful uncle, and two younger cousins that she would rather protect and endure the pain rather than tell anyone about what she suffers in the household. Her father’s dead, her mother’s in and out of an incapacitated state to be able to take care of her, so she’s left with nothing but trying to survive day-to-day. Emma carries the burdens of her abuse with only her friend, Sarah, in on part of the details of things. Sarah urges Emma to get help, but Emma thinks she can’t. When Emma meets Evan, her world gets thrown off balance because she finds herself connecting with him, and considering how much her aunt rules her life, she feels it’s dangerous to make connections with anyone.
This is a rather dark story with some formulaic measures – particularly in the falling in and out of relationships measure on the latter note. However, to her credit, Donovan does a nice job of getting into Emma’s head and pacing out the events for emotional clarity in this. I’ll admit it kept me engaged even when there were times I wanted to rage at the character(s) for the actions they took. I think that was intentional, though, and I understood the motivations behind the larger cast and was able to connect with the characters for the situations they were involved with and their respective personalities.
But holy cliffhanger, Batman. The ending of this book was cruel. It felt like a punch to the stomach when things were finally starting to turn around for Emma and she was just trying to gain her bearings. I’d probably be upset if I didn’t have the second book waiting for me to read, but apart from the shock, I say this was a solid read for what it offered, both for its own value and for the audience it aims for. Is it realistic? Yes and no. Quite a bit of it is an unfolding drama, but its emotional connections and veracity for the events in context are fine as far as I was concerned. I’m anticipating the next book and hope it proves just as solid a read, if not better.
Overall score: 3/5 stars