The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander

The Art of Not Breathing

Favorite quote from the book:

“Diving. Every dive is different, and two people doing the same dive will have different experiences. And if you dive in the same spot at a different time of day, it will be different. It’s the same with a painting.” (p128).


Sarah Alexander has done an excellent job with her first novel. I went into this book with no expectations; I’d never heard of the author or the book. This book is so hard to write about because it emcompasses so much–it’s part mystery as the main character tries to piece together her fragmented memories of her twin brother drowning when she was 11 (five years before the story starts), part grief–as we see how each character deals with this traumatic loss, and part family–the family is literally falling apart as they each drown in their own grief. The symbolism of not being able to breathe is woven around both the brother’s drowning and all of the family’s grief.

Although there is a romantic element to the story (and an ALMOST love triangle, but we’ll just chalk that up to confused hormones), it’s nowhere near as important as Elsie’s desire to get closure for her dead twin. This one traumatic experience has impacted more lives than you’d think, and the way they’ve all dealt with their grief is unique to each character:  Elsie’s compulsive stealing and obsessive desire to learn to free dive, her older brother’s eating disorder, her mother’s alcoholism, and her father’s anger.

This was one of the more “real” realistic fiction books I’ve read in quite a long time. I typically don’t like unreliable narrators (actually…still don’t), but I really appreciated (I’m not going to say enjoy because this is NOT a happy read) this book. I’m absolutely terrible at solving mysteries, and my attempts to guess where these types of stories are going are always so far off the mark it’s laughable. I particularly love a lot of foreshadowing that the author does that you have no clue is foreshadowing until the ending…in which case you have to immediately flip back to those scenes with an “Ah ha!” mentality. Another realistic element of the story is its setting–Fortrose, Scotland. Alexander’s imagery is fantastic, and if you pair that up with Google Maps, you can literally walk around the story. 

Read this book if you like: I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, or Postcards for a Songbird by Rebekah Crane.

Krystal S.

More Stories