Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review: Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer Hubbard

Try Not to Breathe
Jennifer Hubbard
Published: Jan 2012
YA Contemporary

Everyone knows about Ryan's attempted suicide, but no one wants to talk about it - until he meets Nikki, the younger sister of a neighbor kid. She wants Ryan to tell her what it was like to want to die because her father committed suicide when she was younger. The book effortlessly presents Ryan's loneliness in a way that's more sympathetic than hopeless. It's beautifully written, and gives light to what it's like to suffer depression and loss without forcing it with a heavy hand.

I interned for a suicide hotline and briefly taught suicide prevention education to high school and middle school students. As part of a contract, I would come in for 3-4 days in a health class. One of the activities we did for both sets of students was to write the name of a made-up person on the whiteboard, with a layer above him or her saying something like: bullied at school. Then another layer: grandmother dies. Next layer: parent lost job, can't afford new clothes. Next layer: gets in a fight. Next layer: diagnosed with depression, on meds. etc. Basically the layers build up over time until an incident occurs - and it may not be anything major - that sets the person off so much they try to kill themselves. The visual tool of seeing the layers gives context to how suicidal tendencies don't spring up out of nowhere.

Try Not to Breathe takes place post-attempt and is told in fragments of flashbacks to when Ryan was in a treatment center. His only friends are a few other teens from the center who live hours away. They all deal in their own way. As Ryan trusts Nikki more with his secrets, he finally makes the big reveal - what event caused him so much shame that he tried to end his life. And what's most surprising, is it doesn't sound shameful or all that disasterous. But given Ryan's history leading to that moment, it makes sense. This book is not an extreme version of suicide, but a very realistic one. And there's a lot of resolution without feeling like a moral is forced.


  1. I totally want to read this one. Thanks for the review!

  2. I think you make an excellent point here. The 'inciting' event of a suicide attempt can sometimes seem 'minor' to the outsider, but it's all the stuff that's gone before that counts.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.