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Breathing Room
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Breathing Room

5.0 8
by Marsha Hayles

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Evvy Hoffmeister is thirteen years old when her family brings her to Loon Lake Sanatorium to get cured of tuberculosis (TB). Evvy is frightened by her new surroundings; the rules to abide are harsh and the nurses equally rigid. But Evvy soon falls into step with the other girls in her ward. There's Sarah, quiet but thoughtful; Pearl, who adores Hollywood glamour;


Evvy Hoffmeister is thirteen years old when her family brings her to Loon Lake Sanatorium to get cured of tuberculosis (TB). Evvy is frightened by her new surroundings; the rules to abide are harsh and the nurses equally rigid. But Evvy soon falls into step with the other girls in her ward. There's Sarah, quiet but thoughtful; Pearl, who adores Hollywood glamour; and Dina, whose harshness conceals a deep strength. Together, the girls brave the difficult daily routines. Set in 1940 at a time of political unrest throughout the U.S. and Europe, this thought-provoking novel sheds light on a much-feared worldwide illness. Hundreds of thousands of people died each year of TB, and many ill children were sent away to sanatoriums to hopefully recover.

This is a masterful novel—both eloquent and moving—that gives voice to those who fought hard to overcome the illness.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in 1940 at a sanitarium in Loon Lake, Minn., this first novel from picture-book author Hayles (Bunion Burt) is an evocative piece of historical fiction. Thirteen-year-old Evvy Hoffmeister has tuberculosis and feels abandoned by her family when she’s sent to the sanitarium to be cured. The cold nurses, strict rules, mind-numbing routines, and endless bed rest are dispiriting for Evvy and her roommates: kind Beverly, glamorous Pearl, and defensive Dena. “Trying to stay alive at Loon Lake felt like it was killing me already,” says Evvy. Nonetheless, the girls find strength in each other and discover creative ways to bring cheer. Evvy bonds with a new roommate and a warm nurse, but the beginning of war in Europe and the constant deaths in the institution keep the patients under a dark cloud. Evvy’s strong, emphatic narration gives voice to her resentment, isolation, and determination. Hayles’s sympathetic characters and detailed account is complemented by historical documents and photos throughout. Readers will feel plunged into the book’s intimate—claustrophobic, even—setting and immersed in Evvy’s daily struggles. Ages 10–14. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. (June)
From the Publisher

“A moving and well-wrought story.” —School Library Journal

“A quiet, sober story of a genuine heroine who survives a devastating disease with grace.” —Kirkus

“…a perfect read…” —Horn Book

“Hayles's sympathetic characters and detailed account is complemented by historical documents and photos throughout.” —Publishers Weekly

“Hayles's evocative, airy imagery gives wing to her rhyming verse.” —Publishers Weekly on The Feathered Crown

“Unadorned, gracefully rhyming text is partnered with delicate watercolor illustrations, resulting in a gentle perspective . . . that will strike a chord with nature lovers and young children settling down to sleep.” —School Library Journal on The Feathered Crown

“The snappy text uses natural, unforced rhymes and repetition to great effect. . . . This book demands to be read aloud. The energy contained within coupled with the innocent joy of imaginative play are engaging and satisfying.” —School Library Journal on He Saves the Day

Children's Literature - Kris Sauer
Loon Lake Sanatorium is not exactly the kind of place that young girls in the 1940s aspire to. But it is the kind of place where young girls like thirteen-year-old Evvy Hoffmeister are sent when they are afflicted by the highly contagious and too-often deadly disease, tuberculosis. Frightened both by her illness and by the rigidity of her medical surroundings, Evvy is determined to get better and make the most of her situation. Although warned not to talk (doctors thought doing so hampered any potential recovery from her illness), Evvy and the other girls in her ward find ways to communicate and become friends. Evvy is a quiet heroine who finds friends in unusual places—in Sarah, the Jewish girl in the next bed and in Dena, whose brusque nature hides a wounded, generous heart. Each girl in her own way is brave and determined despite dismal odds and sterile surroundings. Targeted to readers in grades five to nine, this is a delightful book that will hook teens and preteens alike despite its somewhat grim topic. With era period pictures opening each chapter, the book is well-researched and would serve as an excellent tie-in for classroom discussions of life in America in the time leading up to the United States' involvement in World War II. Reviewer: Kris Sauer
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Evvy Hoffmeister, 13, arrives at Loon Lake Sanatorium in Minnesota in the early 1940s in hopes of being cured of tuberculosis. She is confined to bed rest in a ward with three other adolescent girls, Beverly, Pearl, and Dena. Evvy misses her family, especially her twin brother, but adjusts to life at Loon Lake, a complex of buildings almost as vividly depicted as the staff and patients it houses. Stony Nurse Marshall, dubbed Old Eagle Eye by Dena, assigns privileges when the girls cough up less bloody sputum and show signs of improving health. Yet death is always close at hand, and Pearl, who had the privilege of leaving the sanatorium for a day, returns happily with gifts of decorated paper fans for her friends, only to die in the hallway from "throwing a ruby," a hemorrhage. Many archaic medical treatments are used on the patients, including thoracoplasty, the removal of a rib to allow a lung to collapse and heal. Sarah, a new patient, becomes Evvy's friend and shares the secret that she is Jewish. With awareness of World War II being fought in Europe, a staff member insults Evvy because of her German surname. She is a resilient and perceptive character who will not be defined by her illness. This powerful novel, illustrated with contemporary objects and documents, portrays an illness that is unfortunately making a comeback. A moving and well-wrought story.—Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT
Kirkus Reviews
Confined to a tuberculosis sanatorium in rural Minnesota, 13 year-old Evelyn Hoffmeister develops inner strength as she copes with loneliness, loss and the insidious disease that threatens her life. In May 1940, Evvy's father leaves her at Loon Lake Sanatorium, where she's assigned to a ward with other teenage tuberculosis patients. Isolated from her family, Evvy quickly learns to follow Loon Lake's strict regimen of bed rest, diet and treatment, with no talking or visitors. Frightened and overwhelmed, Evvy gradually adapts to the sterile routine and discovers her fellow patients: talkative, fashionable Pearl; kindhearted Beverly; gruff Dena; and shy Sarah, a Jewish girl who becomes her best friend. As time slowly passes, Evvy realizes some patients improve and leave, while others die, sometimes unexpectedly. Speaking first as an observer and later as an engaged participant and survivor, Evvy tells the story of her year at Loon Lake. By describing her feelings, fears and tentative hope, she offers an inside peek at the lives of tuberculosis patients in the pre–World War II era, when there was no real cure for the disease. Period photographs of equipment, posters, medical treatments and hospital facilities relating to tuberculosis add verisimilitude. A quiet, sober story of a genuine heroine who survives a devastating disease with grace. (photographs; author's note; notes on photographs) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Square Fish
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Breathing Room



(May 1940)


FATHER JERKED THE CAR to the side of the road and stopped. "Are you okay, Evvy?" he asked, turning in his seat to look at me.

I pitched my head back, gasping for air between coughs. Breathe! a voice inside me screamed. I dropped the Loon Lake brochure. A blast of heavy, moist air shot up from my lungs and exploded into the handkerchief I'd grabbed and pressed against my lips.

But I could breathe again. "I'm okay, Father," I said, though my voice crackled as if it had just been hatched and never used before. "Really I am."

He sank back down into his seat and grabbed the steering wheel. "Ya got Francy?" he asked, glancing at me in the rearview mirror, worry in his eyes.

I lifted my stuffed bear to show him. Thirteen was too old to be holding on to a teddy bear—at least, that's what Mother thought. I was glad Father didn't feel that way.

"Then get some rest, Puddlejump," Father said, using the nickname he'd given me when I was a little girl. "And don't worry, we'll be there soon." As if that could make me feel any better.

He put the car in gear, and the two of us were off again, driving to Loon Lake—or Loony Lake, as my twin brother, Abe, had already renamed it—a sanatorium where sick and contagious people like me went to get better. At least, that was the hope.

When I knew Father wasn't looking, I opened my hand. The damp handkerchief unfolded just enough so I could see the streaks of blood across it. It wasn't the first time I'd coughed up blood. But I'd never told anybody, not even Abe. I was too afraid. Did this blood mean I was going to die?

Copyright © 2012 by Marsha Hayles

Meet the Author

Marsha Hayles is the author of several books for young children. Breathing Room is her first novel. She lives in Pittsford, New York, with her family.

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Breathing Room 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
M_Sil More than 1 year ago
Breathing Room is a great book for mid-grade/young adult readers that works on many levels. The characters are interesting and you care what happens to them. Understanding the complexity of tuberculosis and it's treatment, or lack of, is woven seamlessly into the story. And it works well for this age group as a way to open a discussion on facing life even when it throws a curveball. Excellent book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I totally love this book. Its sad and outgoing at the same time! It seems like a real help to people to help overcome sicknesses!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books. It is so inspiring and sad. I totally will tell all my friends to read it!!! Trust me it is one of the best!!!! :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
&%$##$@$%&$&;*+*-&+&$#%-&*& This book was so sad I cryed during the end of the book so good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Breathing Room is such a great book! Iv'e read it twice and haven't gotten tired of it. Martha Hayles uses great detail makes me feel really close to the people who have TB. I not only had fun reading this book,but I also learned a little about TB. This book is definetely a must read.
224perweek More than 1 year ago
Learned alot from this story. Did not know much about TB but now I know a little bit more. Evvy's story inspirational and very sad. Quick and easy read. Very well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is by far my favorite book ive never read a book as many times as this one either
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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