Jennifer R. Hubbard’s Try Not to Breathe

Published in: 2012Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 6.21.20 PM

Pages: 233

The protagonist: Ryan, 16, an introverted and tragically misunderstood recent survivor of a suicide attempt. He has just left residential treatment and is working on acclimating to life at home post-hospitalization.

The gist in 100 words or less: A local waterfall is Ryan’s safe, get-away-from-it-all place. One day, he runs into Nicki, who Ryan only vaguely knows to be the younger sister of a classmate. Nicki begins asking Ryan questions about his suicide attempt, and as he struggles to decide whether to answer them, he learns some important things about Nicki and about himself.

Great things: It puts suicide RIGHT out there, in a this-is-a-really-big-problem-and-we-shouldn’t-be-so-afraid-to-talk-about-it way. I loved, loved, loved Nicki, and she’s the one who really insists on bringing everything up. Nicki is an amazing, hilarious, round, no-holds-barred, inspirational character. She wants to talk about things that people don’t usually want to talk about, because isn’t that healthier and why don’t we just ask the questions we have and why are there so many social RULES and…

The portrayal of residential mental health treatment was phenomenal. When discussing his experiences at Patterson, Ryan complains about the things that teenagers would complain about, mentally rolling his eyes at certain aspects of his treatment but at the same time realizing why they’re important. This is SO how a teenager’s logic often works and Hubbard captures it perfectly.

Also, almost all of the other characters. And the connection Ryan and Nicki have. And the portrayal of Ryan’s mother. And Ryan’s voice. And…

Meh: Honestly? The cover art & title. I think I put off picking this one up because the photo on the cover combined with the title seem…a little disturbing. I realize now that the title is a reference to an REM song, and I know I’m not super music-reference-literate, but I’m not sure teens today would know REM that well, either. Not that that means we shouldn’t use slightly obscure music references, but…anyway, the title doesn’t fit, especially not with the photo.

Best quote: (one of them) “Mom went upstairs to watch something else because she said baseball was maddeningly slow, and we settled on the living-room couch. The way baseball announcers talk is very relaxing. It’s like they have nothing to do with the rest of their lives besides watch whatever game is in front of them. Not that I listened to every word. I just liked the sound of it, the stream of facts and numbers and stats and names. It pushed everything else out of my mind.” (82)

Parent/teacher alert: This book is about Big Stuff, which is awesome. It’s important and it’s portrayed in a very real, accessible way. But it’s Big Stuff, and if it were my son or daughter I’d definitely use it as an opportunity to talk about suicide, mental health, compassion, kindness and judgement of others.

There are romantic relationships, but they are gritty and real and sweet. Some making out that doesn’t go any farther than making out.

Read it if you liked: Sarah Dessen’s stuff, Speak, The Fault in Our Stars, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Not good for: I imagine someone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts who doesn’t have someone to talk to would have a hard time with this one. Other than that…it’s one that I think almost everyone should read.

What my students think: I haven’t pushed this one yet, but I will be pretty much as soon as I see them this week.


Read-aloud is joyful with the Sisterhood

I work at a residential summer camp where cabin counselors read campers to sleep each night, no matter what age they are or whether they are at camp or on an overnight at a nearby campsite.

The other night, I substitute-covered a cabin of teenage girls and got to read them to sleep. They were reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, one of my favorite YA really-girly-in-a-healthy-and-awesome-way books. Read-aloud always brings me back to fourth grade, when we all sat or lay on the rug while Mrs. Petersen read Allergic to my Family and I hung on every word and GROANED when she refused to continue past the end-of-chapter cliffhanger.

As I read to the cabin, the girls asked clarifying questions, gasped, laughed and then…snoring. What a perfect way to get them to sleep without the too-late giggles and “SHHHH”s, and get some literacy/comprehension/context clues in there, guerilla-style.

I kept reading to myself after they fell asleep, and thank God no one was awake (*spoilers* here in a bit so stop here if you haven’t read it!) because I was definitely crying. By myself. For these characters. Carmen tearfully asking her dad why she and Mom weren’t good enough? Tibby working up the courage to visit her dying friend? Brashares does it all so well, so long as you agree that sniveling-in-the-armchair-with-my-headlamp-and-no-Kleenex-while-campers-snore to be a good thing.

If you haven’t read Sisterhood…go. Seriously. It’s so worth it.