Ryan spends most of his time alone at the local waterfall because it’s the only thing that makes him feel alive. He’s sixteen, post-suicidal, and trying to figure out what to do with himself after a stint in a mental hospital. Then Nicki barges into his world, brimming with life and energy, and asking questions about Ryan’s depression that no one else has ever been brave enough—or cared enough—to ask. Ryan isn’t sure why he trusts Nicki with his darkest secrets, but that trust turns out to be the catalyst that he desperately needs to start living again.
It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing about Try Not to Breathe that’s good when all of it is good, down to its characters, plot and writing.
Like many YA books dealing with suicide, Try Not to Breathe takes place after the suicide (or, in this case, suicide attempt) itself. As the reader, you stick around for the reveal of the details of Ryan’s attempt, of Nicki’s motives, of Ryan’s family’s guilt. And when the reveal happens? All I can say is Wow. Each thing that beats down Ryan, that keeps him behind his “glass” is so unexpected, but not in an out-of-this-world way; it’s instead in a very, very painfully realistic way.
Hubbard captures both the innocence and magic of Ryan’s and Nicki’s youth, exploring the miniscule negatives that spawn and grow in teenagers’ minds. Ryan’s perspective is limited when it comes to himself, but leaves little to the imagination regarding his parents and friends, so you’re never left wondering or hanging. It’s this closeness to the characters that’s so appealing and effective – no matter how little their problems seem at face-value, you end up coming to an understanding that you didn’t think would be possible. You’ll probably want to give them a hug. I know I did.
The only downside for me is Ryan’s recurring need to be reassured through touch. While at first touching (no pun intended), it grew stale very quickly, as if the message it presented was being drilled into my head. I wanted this aspect of him to linger, but not in such a way that his story seems to rely on it. If left me wanting (or expecting) more from him.
But, most importantly, this is a book to savor, not rush through.
[Side note: This was one of the few books I was able to actually read while also listening to music. I found that it worked really well with “Something In the Way” by Nirvana, and “Wonderwall” by Oasis.]