Monday, 3 February 2014

Reason to Breathe (Breathing #1) by Rebecca Donovan

Reason to Breathe (Breathing, #1)

"No one tried to get involved with me, and I kept to myself. This was the place where everything was supposed to be safe and easy. How could Evan Mathews unravel my constant universe in just one day?"

In the affluent town of Weslyn, Connecticut, where most people worry about what to be seen in and who to be seen with, Emma Thomas would rather not be seen at all. She’s more concerned with feigning perfection while pulling down her sleeves to conceal the bruises - not wanting anyone to know how far from perfect her life truly is. Without expecting it, she finds love. It challenges her to recognize her own worth - but at the risk of revealing the terrible secret she’s desperate to hide.

I need to say this because it's far too important not to.  I loathe writing negative reviews.  And I'm not referring to the nitpicking reviews for books I ultimately enjoyed and, in an effort to be fair, am merely pointing out their few flaws (or even a major one).  I'm referring to the others.  The reviews that require me to blaze a wide swath through the novel, eviscerating it, spilling its guts, before giving it a good kick to the head.  Again, I hate these reviews.  Because novels are the brainchild of an author.  It's almost like having a real baby.  You love it, nurture it, yell at it when it's bad, cry over it when it hurts your feelings and hug it when it's all grown up and walking bravely into the world.  I get it.  Trust me, I do.  That's why published authors are out there sharing their stuff with the world and mine will sit on my laptop for eternity... maybe.

Admittedly, I am a bit harder on those novels/novelists represented by a Big Ten because, well, someone should have called bullshit.  The indies are more difficult to be critical of because I know the wealth of knowledge and guidance a great editor can bring.  And most indie authors don't have that luxury.  That being said, there are some rules which all writers, Big Ten or Indie must abide by and this particular book broke quite a few.

Margaret Atwood once wrote that writers need to have a grip on reality.  I agree Margaret, I totally agree.  Creating implausibility in a novel pulls the reader from the story and dumps them back into their own world.  Not good.  Where Reason to Breathe is concerned, it happened so frequently my head was spinning.  The level and intensity of abuse depicted was astonishing and realistic but the reactions of those suspecting it were outrageously out of sync.  Perhaps at age ten we're not equipped with the tools to identify and make known these types of situations, but at sixteen and seventeen we most certainly are.  The concept that close "friends" could and/or would stand by and watch is unlikely at best.  Even in today's world.  And, even if those friends are conflicted, it is even more unlikely they would not seek counsel somewhere.  Furthermore, to perpetuate the "secret" by keeping silent is an act as bad, if not worse, than the offense itself.  Which, one would think, would call into question whether or not they were true friends, a fact the author would have us believe, and even reinforces, ad infinitum.

Show, don't tell.  It's one of my favorites.  When done right, it allows the reader to become the character(s).  There are so many examples my mind wobbles, but one of my favorites is Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  When I read this book I find myself in the depths of the deepest ocean, spying fantastic creatures through a porthole, reverently yet dolefully eyeing that cocksure Captain Nemo and wondering what made him so broken and so captivating.  That's how you get the damn thing done.  You transport your audience.  This novel was a fail when it came to that rule.  Show me the pain, immerse me in longing, slather me in ache, whomp me with tragedy, that's right, I want to feel it... all of it.  Don't tell me about it, it's not a Psych 101 class, SHOW ME DAMN IT!  Every scene involving any kind of introspection or emotion was like reading a text book.  Never once did I feel the budding love, not so much as a smidge of true fear, what I felt was - nothing.  I was reading a chronology of events, like an article in The New York Times, never once slipping into the shoes of the protag.  Nuance was left by the roadside to die after being hit by the car which is Reason to Breathe.

Too much, is simply that - too much.  Oftentimes we let the characters in our minds dictate where the story should go.  They are the voices in our heads, prodding us to "GO RIGHT NOW, WRITE IT DOWN" and most times they win.  I can't tell you how many times I have excused myself from dinner, or a movie, or family gathering to go write something down.  But just because your character(s) tells you to do something, doesn't always make it right.  More often than not, that little scene you loved so much, simply doesn't work out.  There were so many instances of that in this book, so many pieces that should have been edited out.  The entirety of the novel could have and should have been truncated.  There was so much extraneous data, I found myself skimming through it.  Please, allow me to infer, don't info-dump.  I'm smart, I can figure it out.  I don't need to know how everyone gets from point A to point B all the time, get me there and let me stew on it.  Sometimes, putting the puzzle together is more important than discovering the picture.

Here are some key points to remember when crafting a story, none of which this author adhered to, in my opinion:
* You should create engaging characters that the reader can connect with, they may not always be likable, a good villain is as important as a good hero, but the reader must find some impetus to relate to them.
* Your words should propel the story forward.  Useless information bogs down the flow, it stalls the momentum, creating opportunity to lose your reader.
* Create plausible aspects that your reader can relate to.  Even in Fantasy there are elements of truth.  Know what you're writing.  Know the facts.  Support and back it up.
* Understand how to build and connect story arcs.  No, you don't need to be perfect at it, but readers need to see and understand how pieces connect.  If not, you create holes in the storytelling.
* Please, please, please know your character(s).  This is paramount.  If you don't know who they are inside and out, how the hell is your reader supposed to figure them out?  Having them contradict themselves or display inconsistent behavior is a huge NO.

There are those of you who will read this review and hate me.  That's okay, I don't mind.  There are those who will think me a moron for not feeling the love.  That's okay, too.  I didn't feel the love.  As a matter of fact, I can't even tell you the characters names because I have brain dumped this novel from my memory.  But I am entitled to my opinion, nonetheless.  And my opinion is this: there are so many wonderful stories out there, so many fantastic characters to know... so go, go now and find them, but you won't find them here.

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