Title: Breathing Underwater
Author: Sarah Allen
Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 224
Breathing Underwater is a very well-written novel for middle graders about Olivia, a thirteen-year-old girl who just wants to make her severely depressed sister Ruth happy. Ruth is on medication but sometimes it stops working and her dark moods take over. Ruth and Olivia go on a road trip with her mom’s cousin and his husband and Olivia is excited about recreating a treasure hunt they did when they were younger.
Olivia is happy-go-lucky and empathetic, and it’s easy to like her and root for her to succeed in her journey to reconnect with Ruth. Ruth is a little harder to like (coming from someone who has depressive episodes) and I thought it was really sad that Olivia put so much pressure on herself to make her sister happy. I wish there had been more emphasis put on how it wasn’t Olivia’s responsibility (and nor was it possible) to make Ruth happy.
One of the things I loved about this book was how loaded with atmosphere it was. Every time they traveled to a different place it was described in rich detail and I felt like I was right there with them. I could vividly imagine lying on the bed in the RV in the pouring rain even though my family doesn’t own an RV and I’ve never been in one.
Olivia’s passion for photography was also really well-developed and I got a good sense of how important taking pictures was to her character. I have Sarah Allen’s other book (What Stars Are Made Of) on my Kindle but I haven’t read it yet. Reading this book got me really interested in checking the other one out, Sarah Allen is an excellent writer and Breathing Underwater is a powerful portrayal of mental illness and the bond between siblings.