Friday, November 9, 2012

2013 Second Takes: Breathing Room, by Marsha Hayles

Book buzz is a capricious thing. A book gets a starred review or two, a word from the right blogger, and suddenly it's the It Girl of Publishing Year 2013. Last year it was Okay for Now. This year it's Wonder. Sometimes they show up in the Newbery pantheon (oh lovely When You Reach Me), but sometimes the committee looks further afield (Moon Over what?). If this year's committee has been casting about for neglected titles (as well they should be), Breathing Room may be up for discussion.

Sam gave it a rave review, and Kirkus and Horn Book reviewed it quite favorably as well, but no one else seems to be talking about it. Personally, I don't think it's gold medal material, especially in such a strong year, but I think it's at least as good as Three Times Lucky and better than Summer of the Gypsy Moths. The writing is quietly elegant, and the story unfolds gracefully, holding my attention even as it (necessarily) lacks action. The sanatorium setting is vividly portrayed. The conflicts are all interior ones, but Evvy's development as a character is still believable and poignant.

There are flaws, of course. In a Goodreads review, one of my friends points out that some of the characters feel stock (the saintly sick girl, the rebellious sick girl, the young nice nurse, the old mean nurse, etc.). That's a fair critique, though I think they are more fleshed-out by the end. And there is the question of age level - Evvy is thirteen, and the coming-of-age narrative is pretty clearly YA - but it still falls within the Newbery range.

In any case, whether or not the committee has taken up its cause, this is a book worth noticing (if nothing else, it will fill that huge "Tuberculosis Sanatorium Fiction" gap in your collection).

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