Our very awesome Dystopian YA pick for today, is Sarah Crossan's Breathe. It's a beautifully conceptualized YA novel, which examines what it means to live in a world without air.
Dystopian YA is where we review recently-released and upcoming dystopian books.
Breathe by Sarah Crossan
Hardcover, First Edition, 373 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Greenwillow
Amazon/ IndieBound/ Book Depository
So, I have to confess: I had some reservations before reading Breathe. I've seen plenty of environmentally-orientated dystopian YA books over the years that had awesome premises, but just didn't quite live up to my expectations. I was wary that Breathe would fall into that same category.
Luckily, I was wrong. Breathe is a very well-thought out book, and kept me riveted.
After decades of deforestation and substantial overpopulation , the world is now a barren place. Without the trees to provide natural oxygen, people have had to depend on the multi-national Breathe organization to provide them with the facilities and manufactured oxygen to survive.
However, the world inside the Pod is a segregated one. Zone one is for the wealthy citizens, who can afford to buy extra oxygen tanks to do every-day tasks, including exercising and dancing.
Zone two is reserved for stewards, and those who keep the Pod running. Zone three is for auxiliaries - who can barely afford to keep breathing on a regular basis.
For Bea and Quinn, their lives are completely entrenched a biosphere in England. The sphere or "pod", is their whole world. They live, eat, sleep, go to school and work in the Pod, while also observing the barren world outside the Pod. Bea is an auxiliary, with aspirations of joining the Premium class. She's best friends (and in love) with Quinn, a Premium who isn't quite sure how he fits into his family or their world.
Alina also lives in the Pod. However, she's a member of the resistance - men and women who have figured out that the Breathe corporation isn't as altruistic as they may seem, and are actively preventing the world from reforming and reshaping itself again.
Things that worked:
One of the most unique attributes of Breathe, is the fact that the book is told from three different points of view. Alina, Quinn and Bea all get their chance to narrate and share their perspectives on what's happening.
It's hard enough to get dual perspectives right, so the fact that Sarah Crossan manages to do three characters,and still 1) keep the plot moving and 2) give them all unique voices, is an incredible feat and a testament to her writing.
It's a toss-up on whether I liked Alina or Quinn the most. I loved the fact that Alina was bold and brave, and played an important part in the resistance. However, I also really enjoyed watching Quinn transform from very sweet but slightly clueless rich Premium, to a wise young man who recognizes how to use his smarts and wealth to achieve his end goal.
I also liked Bea - she's smart and extremely compassionate, but I sometimes felt that her compassion got in the way of common sense. She sometimes took risks that caused unnecessary problems.
The secondary characters were rich and memorable as well. Maude Blue's introduction is one that I will definitely not forget any time soon.
The book moves incredibly quickly. Part of this is because of the three perspectives - the reader is privy to multiple scenes/character interactions, so this automatically propels the action forward.
Another part of it is also just really good pacing. The story jumps very quickly into the action, and we slowly learn about the post-Switch world throughout the course of the book. At no point did it feel like Crossan was doing info-dumps or anything along those lines.
I was a little surprised at how quickly things moved in the end (especially how quickly Quinn announced to the public the truth about Breathe's intentions) but I think it's because I'm used to authors pacing things out a little - to the point of dragging on - especially when they're writing a trilogy. The fact that Crossan didn't go that way with her plotting, definitely felt like a fresh breath of air.
(Sorry, sorry - bad joke!)
One of my biggest issues with other environmental dystopians has been that the world described in them, isn't entirely plausible. It takes too much of a leap of logic to get to that point in those books.
With Breathe, I could very easily see how the world devolved to this point, and how England responded to this situation.
While some of the bigger-picture questions weren't answered (e.g. how are other countries dealing with this situation? How does a country like China, with its millions of citizens dealing with this situation?), there were references made which make me think that they will be discussed in the sequel.
Things that didn't work:
Because there are three perspectives, a lot of the book is - as another reviewer mentioned - plot driven, verses character driven. As the other reviewer said, because the perspective is constantly switching we don't really get to feel close to the characters as a result. I would have loved to hear more about Alina's strength, learn more about Bea's family, and figure out why Quinn was so sweet, despite coming from his family.
This is really just a bit of a nit-pick though, and I think the only way to resolves this is to make the book longer - e.g. Rick Riordan's multi-perspective Heroes of Olympus series.
Highly recommend this book for fans of YA dystopians, and fans of science-orientated fiction stories.