Since her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone. Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.
With The Art Of Not Breathing, I did something I don’t usually do. I read reviews about the book while I was still reading the book. Terrible idea, I know. But the book intrigued me, and left me wondering if only I was unimpressed by the detached, honestly boring writing, and it turns out I wasn’t the only one. Thank the heavens.
The Art of Not Breathing is a story about Elsie Main and her family, set in a small town near Inverness, Scotland. And the beauty of this book does not lie only in the setting, but also in its characters that are brilliantly thought out. Elsie lost her twin brother Eddie to drowning about five years prior to the setting of the book. Her family is in complete shambles—her older brother who has an eating disorder, parents who are too wrapped up in their own grief and are hella negligent—and Elsie herself is no good. After all, she was supposed to be taking care of Eddie, and he’s gone because of her. Obviously, there’s a lot more to the book, (and Eddie’s death) but let’s deal with this one at a time.
Despite all my reservations about the book—some of which I’ll address, some are too spoiler-y—I can honestly say that I liked Elsie a lot. Her voice was the kind you’d want to reach out and help, no matter what. For a sixteen year old, Elsie is smart beyond her years. And brave. So, so brave. Here is a girl who lost her brother to the sea. After such a traumatic event, she takes it on herself to learn free diving (which is basically deep see diving, but without any oxygen tanks). It’s an act of courage and bravery that I respected and was in complete awe of. I certainly couldn’t have done it. Apart from that, she’s also constantly bullied at school, and is neglected at home. It can’t be a pretty environment, but Elsie’s grace in trying times was something to look up to.
And of course, this book would’ve been just fine without the love interest Tay, but okay. Tay was…not one of my favourites, in all honesty. In fact, he kind of took away from the book instead of adding to it. It’s not specifically called out to, but it’s possible that Tay had ADHD, and I looked forward to how Elsie would deal with that—but, nothing. It was only a passing observation, nothing more. Besides, the whole insta-love thing didn’t work for me, owing to the fact that Tay knew a lot about Eddie’s death than he said. And Elsie knew that. Tay was the one who encouraged Elsie into free diving, and that’s basically the only thing I enjoyed seeing relating to this guy. Bleh.
For the amount of “page-time” that was spent in going over Eddie’s death and the family’s subsequent fallout, I was ridiculously underwhelmed when the truth was actually revealed. I’d expected a bit more…I don’t know, more? There were a ton of clichés throughout the book that I’d intended to ignore, but the ending was a complete mess, and that’s just unacceptable. When I say that a book had the best concept and the most unique of ideas, and then go on to say that the writing disappointed me, know that I say it with the heaviest of hearts. Like I said before, this book and its characters deserved a more passionate writing, a writing that could make me feel instead of just see, and it’s so sad to see that that won’t be happening at all.