{Blog Tour} Review & Author Interview: The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Art of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander
Released: 1st April 2016
Published by: Usborne Publishing
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 382
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads | QBD | Book Depository
One minute Eddie was there. And the next he was gone.

Five years on, and it’s Elsie who’s lost. All she knows is the pain she feels. Pain that her twin Eddie’s body has never been found after that day on the beach. Then she meets Tay; confident, cool and addicted to free-diving.

He says it’s too dangerous for her to join; it’s too dark, too scary, too deep. But what does he know? He doesn’t know that being underwater is the only time Elsie doesn’t ache for her brother. That diving gives her flashbacks. And that uncovering the secrets of that day is the only way for Elsie to start breathing again.
Thank you to HarperCollins Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Sometimes I feel invisible, like a wisp of air that tickles the back of someone's neck before they close the window to block the draught.

The pain of losing a twin and the repercussions of a tragedy on the family is central to this broody and emotive story of one girl's quest to seek some sort of closure and retribution for what happened on the water those five years ago. With a series of twists that unfurl gradually in the murky depths of this family's past, The Art of Not Breathing is a novel which is both moving and memorable.

I tell myself that one day I'll have a new boat and I'll be off exploring. I don't yet know where I want to explore but maybe there are some undiscovered islands in the North Sea. maybe I'll find another place like the black isle, with beaches, otters and a boathouse. the difference will be that no one will know who I am.

The intricacies of the family dynamics in this story are what create the majority of the drama in the story, and definitely piqued my curiosity. After all, there must be some dark secrets at play when the details of Eddie's drowning still lie somewhere at the bottom of the ocean. There can be a trend in YA where the parents are mostly absent in the plotline, so it was good to see in this novel that they were actually present - although of course, not the image of 'perfect'. The loss of a child had clearly affected them in different ways, and the same for Elsie's older brother Dillon as well who is struggling with his own wellbeing. So many of the characters are intertwined in complex ways, from the immediate family, to others like Tay and the people he's associated with. They all have their own links to this tragic event - and unraveling just what those are is what kept me turning the pages.

These last few weeks I've imagined that Eddie might have been at peace in his last moments; the bright colours, the sense of freedom, the lightness. But the water here is cold, dark and creepy. He would have been terrified...For the first time, Eddie's death is starting to feel real to me. 

Two other aspects which made this book stand out to me are definitely the setting and unique focus on freediving. I haven't read many books set in Scotland (outside of Outlander that is), and so to have The Art of Not Breathing do this made for an extra intriguing angle. Looking more into freediving and how it helped Elsie come to remember more about that fateful day certainly worked as a narrative device, plus you could tell that the author had definitely done her research into the area. The cold water, and the stillness of being submerged in a totally different world set the tone perfectly for the mystery to play out. The best thing was seeing how Elsie developed as a character to hopefully reach the catharsis she was looking for.

I am turning into water, fluid and ever-changing. I am not a visitor to the ocean, I am part of it.


Through the cold, murky depths of its setting to the clarity of its end, I can certainly say that The Art of Not Breathing is a page-turner you won't want to miss.

Author Interview with Sarah Alexander

1. The idea of that special bond between twins is explored really interestingly in this novel. How did you come to the idea of looking into these family dynamics for Elsie especially dealing with a loss?

I’ve always been interested in twin and sibling relationships, but I find the differences between twins, and siblings in general, even more fascinating than the similarities. Originally, Elsie and Dillon were twins but as the story developed this changed naturally. I wanted to explore the long term effects of a tragedy on all the family relationships, and look at the different ways in which they cope.

2. The Scottish setting seemed to bring the whole story together really well and add an extra level of atmosphere. What were some of the reasons for setting it there?

I have family in Scotland so I’ve spent a lot of time there and I love the ruggedness and beauty of the landscape. I visited the Black Isle one summer and fell in love with everything about it – the long, atmospheric twilights, the dolphins, the beautiful harbour and the lighthouse.

3. Did you have a favourite character who originally inspired the story?

Elsie and her mum came to me first. They arrived together and I knew as soon as I met them that they's suffered a devastating loss – one that brought them together but also tore them apart. When I think about the book, it’s these two characters I picture first. I was desperate for them to be OK.

4. The focus on freediving was a fascinating one, and I love how the water and forces of nature played a role in the book. When did you decide that it would be featured in the novel?

It happened quite organically. Water was always going to be a major part of the book but I had imagined it as the setting rather than where the action took place, and then as I started writing I couldn’t keep my characters away from it. Every time I started a new scene, my characters wandered off the page down to the beach. The breath- holding and the depth worked perfectly with all the main themes in the novel, so I just went with it.

5. What are the most important things you want readers to take away from 'The Art of Not Breathing'?

1. Not all the answers are at the bottom of the sea (some of them are).
2. Your past shapes you but doesn’t have to define you.
3. Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.
4. It’s OK to be different. You will still be loved and liked.

6. Do you have any advice for other aspiring authors out there?

It’s a good idea to make a timeline so you don’t get lost. Although, sometimes you discover the best things when you're lost.

7. After an impressive first novel, could you give us a hint at what to expect from you next?

Ah thanks! I’m working on another standalone YA novel that deals with fear and anxiety. I'm working on a few ideas, actually, so watch this space!

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