Did you know there are a lot of books that start with R? I had a hell of a time picking one for this letter because I could have easily written about six (they’re linked at the bottom of this post). In the end, I decided to post about one that has stuck with me the most, and Reason to Breathe by Rebecca Donovan has done so since I read it a few years ago.
Reason to Breathe is a YA novel–I suppose it’s romance. It’s categorized as such on Amazon. But it’s much more than a standard teen love story.
I’m not sure if this book comes with a trigger warning for child/domestic abuse, but it should.
Emma lives with her Aunt, Uncle, and two young cousins, a living arrangement her aunt finds wholly unacceptable, and she repeatedly shows it trough repeated and severe physical abuse. We see it early on in the book, after Emma’s little cousin Jack fetches her for dinner.
I walked slowly down the hall and into the light of the dining room. My stomach turned as I crossed the threshold. I kept my gaze down at my hands, which I twisted in anticipation. To my relief, no one noticed me when I entered.
“Emma!” Leyla exclaimed, running to me. I bent down, allowing her to jump into my arms. She gave me a tight embrace around my neck. I released a breathy grunt when the pain shot up my arm.
“Did you see my picture?” she asked, so proud of her swirls of pink and yellow. I felt the glare on my back, knowing that if it were a knife, I would be incapacitated instantly.
“Mom, did you see my drawing of Tyrannosaurus Rex?” I heard Jack ask, attempting to distract her.
“That’s wonderful, honey,” she praised, her attention drawn to her son.
“It’s beautiful,” I said softly to Leyla, looking into her dancing brown eyes.
The story swings from an “average” teenage experience in high school, complete with meeting and dating a boy who’s new to the school, to the horror of Emma’s home life, where Emma’s aunt makes sure she knows she is not one of her own children. We root for Emma when she dodges another attack, we wring our hands in frustration that she can’t or doesn’t tell her friends about the abuse or call the police for help, and when we reach the ending…
Well, let’s put it this way. Sometimes, I finish a book late at night so I can go to sleep. The ending of this book was so shocking it kept me up for a while.
This book is the first part of a trilogy, and I got the second part as quickly as I could. The cliffhanger was that haunting.