The Art of Not Breathing

The Art of Not Breathing

by Sarah Alexander


$16.19 $17.99 Save 10% Current price is $16.19, Original price is $17.99. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, January 28

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544633889
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/26/2016
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 536,495
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile: HL680L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Sarah Alexander has previously worked as a tomato picker, travel consultant and mental-health support worker. She has completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College with Distinction, and now works in publishing in London.

Read an Excerpt


The thing I hate most about my father is that he hates me.
     And he has good reason to.
     It’s something we don’t talk about.
     He has pale blue, cold eyes that are one minute full of hate, the next full of so much sadness that I pity him. And I can’t stand to feel sorry for him. When I look at him, I get this sensation in my throat that feels as though maggots are crawling about in there. The only way to get rid of the itching is to hold my breath and swallow until I almost pass out. The best thing to do is not look at his face or eyes—or, better still, not look at him at all.
     Fortunately, he’s hardly ever home. He’s either out running so that the village women can drool over his “chiseled jaw,” or he’s at the bank where he works in Inverness or traveling about Scotland selling loans. You’d think he loves his job, the amount of time he spends doing it, but he grumbles that his clients only care about cars or TVs and not about the terrible wars and disasters that happen around the world. “Never mind the rain on the Black Isle,” he says. “What about remote villages that flood every year?” Or, “Thousands of people die every day from mosquito bites in some countries.” He says this one a lot when it’s midge season here and I’m complaining about them. (The midges love my blood.)
     My mum tells him, “Do let us know when you’ve found a cure for malaria, Colin. In the meantime your son needs study books for his exams and your daughter has grown out of another school uniform.” I wish she didn’t use my weight as a way of getting his attention. Why can’t she say the gas bill needs paying or the damp in my room wants sorting?
     In the drawer by his bed is an atlas covered in ink, the blue dots places he’s been to, the red ones places he’s desperate to go. There’s a massive red dot on Australia—he pressed the pen so hard, there’s ink on the next page, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He nearly made it to Australia once, when he was twenty and had a job as a singer on a cruise ship. When we kids were small, he told us bedtime stories about his travels, his voice smooth and soft like melted chocolate. His favorite story was the one about the port in Jakarta. The weather was thundery and the cruise ship had just left the port, next stop Australia, when he received the call to say that Dillon, my older brother, had been born. He used to say, “I was so surprised, I nearly fell overboard, but then I jumped off anyway and swam ashore.”
     Mum says this isn’t true, that he wanted to stay on the ship. I often wonder what life would be like if he had stayed on that ship. Or if he’d actually fallen overboard.
     I’ve picked up a few snippets about my parents’ life pre me being born, mostly from Granny before she died, and before she fell out with Mum. My parents moved into our house on McKellen Drive, the cheapest house in Fortrose, and probably on the whole of the Black Isle, when Dillon was a few months old. It was cheap because the walls were crumbling and it backed onto a cemetery. My father wanted to work on the ship for a few more months so they could afford to move to Inverness, but Mum wouldn’t let him go away again. She didn’t think he’d come back.
     Instead, he tried to make money by singing in pubs around Inverness. The house never got fixed, and the bills never got paid.
     When yet another bill marked FINAL WARNING arrived in the post and Mum was hormonal and pregnant again, she marched my father to the nearest bank and made him fill in an application form to be a bank clerk. (This is how he describes it.) When he’d finally made enough money, we packed up, ready to move to the city. We kids had a box each with our names on, full of our clothes and toys. But then everything changed.
     My brother disappeared.
     “How can I leave all these people,” Mum said, staring out my bedroom window at the headstones in the cemetery on the day we were supposed to move, “when my son is one of them?”
     It wasn’t strictly true—there’s a headstone with his name on it, but my brother isn’t buried anywhere.
     We didn’t unpack his box. Mum taped it up good and proper so nothing could fall out. I think about his belongings in the loft sometimes: a gray furry dolphin called Gordon that my father bought for him after he’d had a tantrum at the Dolphin and Seal Centre; a wooden xylophone; a Toy Story 3 Etch A Sketch with his name on it in wonky black lines—he would cry if it got scrubbed off; handfuls of pine needles that he’d collected, the dead ones because they were softer than the spiky green ones. They’ve probably turned into compost now. I try not to think of his clothes, all folded up, damp and creased. It just reminds me that he’s not in them. Instead, I imagine my own clothes all folded up. One day, I suppose, someone else will have to try not to think about that.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

The Art of Not Breathing 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous 5 months ago
An intimate look at families and relationships and the pain that secrets cause.
Caroles_Random_Life More than 1 year ago
I liked this book. I have had a review copy of this book for about a year and a half and put it off after I started seeing mixed reviews. That was a mistake because this book worked really well for me. It is a rather short book but I think it moved fast for me because of how the story flowed. I just didn't want to quit turning pages once I reached a certain point in the story. I was curious about the characters and their histories from the start of the book. The more that I read the more that I hooked. These characters have a lot of issues to deal with and I really wanted to see things work out for them. I am kind of surprised by how many tough topics found their way into this story but it worked. This story follows Elsie. Elsie's twin brother, Eddie, died in a drowning accident 5 years earlier. Elsie and the rest of her family are just trying to keep moving forward but in many ways they are failing. Elsie's dad leaves for long periods of time and nobody knows where he is. Her mom drinks more than she should. Elsie isn't doing well in school and has no friends. Dillon seems to doing the best in the group but that's not really the case. Elsie doesn't remember exactly what happened the day that Eddie died but she wants to remember. When she meets Tay and the other diving boys, she ends up learning to dive and finds that she feels closer to her lost brother under the water. She is remembering things and hopes to learn what happened just as her family is falling apart. There were a few times in the story that I wanted to shake the characters for some of their actions but I always felt that what they did felt authentic. People don't always do what they should and as teenagers it can be even harder. While I didn't always like what the characters were doing, I understood why they made the choices that they did. I would recommend this book to others. It was a book that had a really strong finish that made me feel for the characters. I am really a bit upset that I put this one off for as long as I did. I would definitely read more from Sarah Alexander in the future. I received an advance reader copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group - HMH Books for Young Readers via NetGalley.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was so amazing, I read it in one day! :)
MariahEllis More than 1 year ago
Actual rating - 2.5 So much potential, wasted. I loved loved loved the idea of The Art of Not Breathing. I mean, never in my whole life of reading have I come across a book featuring freediving. And that cover is just simply gorgeous! A connection with the characters was never made for me. None of them had any depth (except for when they were freediving), and they kept making awful decisions. I found myself wishing I could tell them all how stupid they were being, and that if they would wake up, maybe their world wouldn't be falling apart. The end explanation of everything kind of had me scratching my head. It was so complicated and there were so many people involved that the anticipation of finally understanding what happened to Eddie seemed pointless. I spent the entire book wanting to know the truth, that when I finally found out, I simply didn't care anymore.
BlkosinerBookBlog More than 1 year ago
3.5 stars Liked it a lot Source: earc from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via edelweiss Disclaimer: I received this book as an ARC (advanced review copy). I am not paid for this review, and my opinions in this review are mine, and are not effected by the book being free. Review by Brandi Breathes Books I wanted to read this because I like stories that deal with grief and also the ones that have a new person to come into their lives and help them realize a new way to live. The characters the family is definitely present but there's a rough dynamic between Elsie and her parents. She also had a very rocky relationship with her brother but they do have moments of bonding, mostly through memories shared of their brother Eddie who drowned since their parents are silent. The grief Elsie dealt with her grief in some pretty bug ways she steals some stuff, overeats, and she smoke cigarettes and she keeps tho herself a lot. She feels invisible at home, especially on her birthday, they go silently to eddies grave and her mom promises they will celebrate later but never do. She feels like getting attention involves her stealing or when she.ways tho much, even if they are negative attention. She has really low self esteem and doesn't do her homework or do well in school. Her brother's grief is touched upon with his eating disorder. The new guy They first meet at Elsie's hideout, and again when she is having tea and talking with his father about free diving, and he then asks her to come with him. The mystery Okay, one part is figuring out what exactly happened to Eddie when he drowned. Elsie doesn't remember, it's all foggy, but things start to come back to her as she is in water. Another part is whether or not Elsie has mental issues, since she says she feels Eddie inside her and talks to her. Or if it's a bit supernatural or just some part of her grieving process. What I didn't like The abrupt flashbacks are annoying. They should have a section break or chapter break or something to alert you its not in the present anymore. The ending Didn't really see some of the things coming, but glad about wrap-up overall. Bottom Line: Look at grief and loss and how it effects a family.
MorrisMorgan More than 1 year ago
“The Art of Not Breathing” is far from your typical YA book. In fact, I found it quite odd. That isn’t actually a bad thing considering that our narrator, Elsie, is different from the norm herself. This is one of those books that mentioning much of it will spoil the whole thing. I can say the Elsie is dealing with the drowning death of her twin brother when they were eleven and a very, very broken family. Her life is extremely painful and the author spares no feelings in describing the stark reality of everything that she is living through. On top of her home life, she is dealing with a bullying at school. In fact, there is one scene that describes the most brutal bullying situation I have ever read. It was bad enough that I had to put the book down for a bit. One other thing that may trigger readers is that her brother has a severe eating disorder. I applaud the author for her frank description of what it does to him, but I want to warn everyone that it is graphic. I recommend “The Art of Breathing” to anyone looking for a good contemporary read that unflinchingly examines broken families, the lies they tell, bullying, and eating disorders. There is romance, but if you’re looking for something lighthearted in that genre I’d suggest you look elsewhere. This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
COBauer More than 1 year ago
THE ART OF NOT BREATHING by Sarah Alexander is a raw & unique story about a 16 year old girl coping with the loss of her twin brother. Each family member deals with their loss & guilt in their own way. Watching these characters fall apart and put themselves back together is absolutely breathtaking. Being a diver myself, I appreciated the ways in which the author used diving as a form of therapy & a way for Elsie to find a new lease on life. There’s something very freeing about being underwater–it allows you to focus on the world around you and free your mind from the stress of everyday life. The characters were well-developed, the writing was beautiful, simple & straightforward, and the arc was well laid out. Highly recommend.
V-Rundell More than 1 year ago
This is a well-written novel about a family slowly eroding following tragedy. It is set in the Black Isle of Scotland. Five years ago Elsie's twin Eddie was swept out to sea while they played at the beach for their 11th birthday. His body was never recovered, and her family has never recovered. Eddie was a smaller child, and though chronologically 11 years old, he was far smaller than Elsie and not able to be educated in the school system due to developmental delays that may have stemmed from gestational issues or a birthing accident. He was several developmental years behind his twin, and Elsie defended him ruthlessly. They have an elder brother Dillon who witnessed some of the events on the beach that fateful day, but neither he nor Elsie, nor their parents, speak of it. Ever. We start out the book on the eve of Elsie's 16th birthday, with the family preparing for their annual memorial visit to the seashore to pay respects to Eddie's cross. It's all very emotional, and bitter, what with Elsie feeling forlorn for the loss of her twin, and the loss of her own celebrations. What she rarely admits to anyone is that she "hears" Eddie within her, and she speaks to him often. She wants to know what happened on the day of his drowning, but no one will ever speak of it. As Elsie makes her way through she suffers horrible bullying, depression, and the knowledge that what remains of her family is disintegrating. Dillon's got a girlfriend, but there's something very off about him lately; he's growing scarily thin. Her father spends as much time at work, or traveling for work, as possible, and her mother is a functional alcoholic. During the course of the book we learn that Elsie loves spending time near the water, as it helps her feel close to Eddie. Eddie was a boy who loved the shore, and the dolphins, and Elsie creates a haven for herself at an abandoned boating club--which is now being refurbished by Mick, his son Danny and nephew Tay. They want to run scuba tours and freediving classes. Elsie has been continually warned against going into the water, but her rebellious side allows her to be goaded into it--and there she experiences flashbacks of that fateful day. Driven to determine the full truth of the horrors of Eddie's final moments, she begins to train with bad-boy Tay, and eventually the mean and enigmatic Danny, so that she can make deep freedives into the inlet where Eddie drowned. It's a really fascinating look at the way loss changes the dynamics of a family. There are so many converging problems: her father's anger and withdrawal, her mother's depression, her brother's eating disorder. Elsie, in pseudo middle child form, feels a deep need to piece everything together. The emotions run high, and it's a thrilling experience for Elsie to have the interest of a boy--for the first time ever. All her training for freediving alters her appearance, and gives her a different mindset--she aches to achieve a final communion with Eddie, and that was really poignant, if rather troubling. I really related to Elsie's determination, and understood her seemingly flighty nature. No one has seemed to care about her in a very long time, so why should she bother? And yet, she finds the strength to do so. She's not a very admirable character, in many ways, but I felt that her faults were those of circumstance. She is a pariah. Tay is the one guy who sees her, not the Twin Who Lived, and that's a refreshing. The book ends on an upbeat note.
Holly More than 1 year ago
The Art Of Not Breathing is the story of how one girl can overcome challenges and be the person she was meant to be. Ever since Elsie's twin brother Eddie, drowned five years ago, she has been wondering what really happened that day. Now sixteen and with her family falling apart due to that fateful day, a boy named Tay and a sport called free diving makes her want to find the answers she so desperately needs. One day as Elsie makes her way to her secret hideout which is a abandoned boathouse, she meets four boys who will ultimately teach her how to free dive and the truth about her past. When her dad leaves and Elsie discovers a secret about her older brother that will put him in the hospital and everything slowly starts to make sense about that day her twin drowned. It isn't until Elsie decided to make a dive without anyone around that everything comes back to her about really happened that day. With the truth free, Elsie finally discovers what it means to finally breathe again. I liked this book but it did have it's slow parts but overall it was a pretty good storyline. Even though it's set in Scotland, it wasn't a hard book to follow due to some of the words used or the setting. The whole buildup to what happened that day Elsie's brother died was awesome in the sense that I never saw what really happened until it happened in the book and for being a first time Author to do that in that way, makes Sarah my new favorite debut Author!! Thank You to Sarah Alexander for writing a great debut novel that I can't wait to see what is to come from you!! I received this book from the Publisher in exchange for a honest review.
KathyMacMillan More than 1 year ago
Elsie is the kind of fantastically real character, likeable yet flawed, that we rarely see in fiction. She does dumb things, just like, you know, real teenagers do, and she is sometimes selfish to the point of being oblivious to things her family is going through. But she’s also determined and stubborn and strong. Sure that she can figure out the mystery of what really happened on the day her twin brother, Eddie, disappeared into the North Sea, she takes up freediving and gets mixed up with a couple of boys who know a lot more than they let on. Everyone in Elsie’s family is crumbling under the weight of secrets and guilt, and it’s only when Elsie uncovers the truth – learning a whole lot about herself and her own capabilities along the way – that they can begin to heal.
MarisaR More than 1 year ago
An atmospheric and haunting read that left me breathless. I felt this whole book. It crept under my skin, leaving goosebumps in its wake. The writing was beautiful. The setting was so tangible that I could hear and breathe it. The characters were so real, heartbreaking, and expertly drawn. I am a big fan of Sarah Alexander and can’t wait to see what she does next.