Never has a book driven me to the edge of insanity that I all but lost my mind whilst reading it. Rebecca Donovan is an author not averse to taking her readers apart, emotionally and I love her for it.
The Breathing series, a trilogy of YA novels that tells the story of Emma/Emily Thomas. Emma has been in the care of her uncle and her evil aunt, this woman is EVIL, since she was thirteen years old; after the death of her father. Life has sucked for Emma but for the love of her BFF Sara it would’ve sucked even more. She suffers abuse at the hands of her aunt, physical and emotional, its almost too much to read at times to be honest and we don’t really know why aunt Carol had such a deep level of hatred for Emma other than she was carved from pure evil in its truest form. And whilst I don’t agree with her reasons for putting up with this abuse for so long, I understand. She was protecting her little cousins who would’ve been without parents had she said anything to the authorities. Still, this was an intense issue to deal with.
Two things Emma excels in; academics and sports, and that’s where her solace comes from. She is a star pupil and being best friends with one the the most popular girls in Weslyn High gives her something of an in with the crowd, though she cares very little if anything to be in with the in crowd so to speak. She’s a girl with her face to the ground and eyes on the prize.
Then along comes Evan…oh Evan I love him, you’ll love him too. Newly transferred from San Francisco, he’s a smart mouth but a sweet, hot guy. He forces her to take her eyes off the ground and look life in the face…He is into Emma but she doesn’t know how or why he would be because she is not the kind of girl guys like Evan are just into…or so she thinks. And there is the whole situation with her evil aunt who tries everything to stifle life out of her so Emma cannot let herself dare think about a life of that kind of love, not when she has been starved of basic love for a long time. But Evan does not give up, he sees past the timid girl with perfect grades, editor of the school paper, all star sportswoman. He sees her. Even before she sees herself. He fights hard for her, even when she shut him down he goes all in for her. Man I love this guy, this is the kind of guy you wish they had in high school.
In Book one my heart literally broke for Emma because she was just so down on herself, she puts the plight of her cousins first knowing that the abuse at the hands of her aunt won’t last forever because she’ll be off to college eventually. There were flashes of her defiance and the fact that she just would absolutely not put anyone else in danger of her aunt’s wrath but at times she pushed me to the edge of wanting to slap life into her.
By the end of book two though I HATED HER!! OMG!! This girl tried my patience and gave me feelings. She moves in with her mother in hopes of mending their really broken relationship and Emma let herself be used as a punching bag for her mother’s feelings. I wanted her to tell her mother to go to hell and never come back. Hell I wanted to kill her mother, a truly selfish and despicable woman. Right to the very end she was hateful. She played Emma too many times and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Emma couldn’t see what we saw or why she insisted on trying to fix them when they were broken beyond repair. Her mother tries to paint a false childhood for Emma and guilts her even more into staying by making her feel like it was her fault her father died. A man she didn’t even love. Emma puts herself in the most questionable situations, pushing Evan away at one point by striking an inappropriate relationship with Jonathan. Her mother’s boyfriend. Yep it was all downhill from there. And by the end of book two I really was not feeling Emma at all. She ends up breaking my heart.
Book three we meet an angry Emma who is a shadow of her former self and all her own doing. She is now in College, with new friends including Sara who has stuck by her resolutely, best friends don’t come better than this. Emma is still in her funk over everything that happened in her mother’s house, everything she did and the secret she shares with Jonathan. She is living but only barely, going through the motions without feeling anything, she became this fragile thing that everyone was worried about, honestly I didn’t think she could get any worse but she does. She thinks about Evan everyday, cannot forgive herself for what she did to him, she cannot move on even if she tries to by dating Cole, a friend of her very annoying housemate in College. Cole is sweet and intuitive and he turns out to be six degrees separated from Evan. One party in Santa Barbara is all Emma needs to remember that though he may not be around her Evan never really did let go of her. Or her of him. In book three we hear Evan’s POV as well and we get to understand just what hell he went through after the end of book two…
I love this series because it goes where so few authors would dare to. Donovan deals with uncomfortable but realistic issues that most other authors would not be able to, in such a way that we are forced out of our comfort zones of those sappy teenage love stories. This is not your sappy happy ever after. I love the fact that she was not afraid to go there with her main character, if it makes her unlikable then so be it, the story sells itself. Its a true testament of a wonderful writer. Trust me I was dealing with some emotions after this, especially after book two. This is not just a story about teenage angst one feels in high school, insecurities or any of those other issues regular teenagers face, this is a story that delves deep, its about love, painful and heartbreaking love that keeps you on tentacles and literally takes your breath away. Its about the complicated layers of life, and above all else, its about hope; knowing and believing that no matter how shitty things get they will get better you just have to believe it and want it to. Even if at times it feels like you cannot go on anymore. Emma gave up on herself so many times but there were people around her that pushed her, and when it felt like she was this close to ending it all, she saw the other side and was able to take life one breath at a time.
Just remember to keep breathing. This is a hell of a fantastic story.