Breathless

Title: Breathless
Author: Lurlene McDaniel
Pages: 165
Genre: Fiction, YA, cancer
Series? No
Publisher: Delacorte Press (2009)
Rating: 1 – I had to force myself to finish it. Will not be keeping it or recommending to friends

Synopsis from cover: Travis Morrison knows how good his life is. He’s a champion diver and one of the most popular kids at school. He has Darla, the girl he loves; Emily, his kid sister, whom he actually doesn’t mind hanging out with; and Cooper, his best friend.

On the first day of summer vacation, all four go boating on the lake, and everything feels perfect. They cut the motor and drift toward their favorite spot, where cliffs abound – nature at its finest. Travis’s friends ask him not to try the diving stunt, but he can’t resist a challenge.

Travis’s silly stunt dive goes wrong, and he fears he has broken his leg. Instead, his trip to the hospital reveals devastating news. In an instant, Travis’s life and the lives of everyone around him are forever changed.

Travis understands that his parents believe they’re doing what’s best for him. But Travis has always been sure of himself, and he’s sure of one thing now – that he and only he should decide the course of his life. He has a plan, but he can’t carry it out alone. How will he convince the three people he feels he can count on most to help him? And when things get even worse, who will fulfill his most important request?

In this honest and probing novel, Lurlene McDaniel tackles a controversial subject, sensitively exploring the issues of personal choice and the quality of life, and poignantly reminding us that every individual deserves to be treated with dignity.

My Initial Thoughts/Rambling: Okay, let me draw attention to these three blurbs: “sensitively exploring,” “McDaniel began writing inspirational novels. . .” and “McDaniel’s novels are hard hitting and realistic, but also leave readers with inspiration and hope” (from the jacket cover). Let me say it right now: whoever wrote that crap is a freaking liar. I warn you: I’m about to go on a rant. I’ll try to organize my thoughts, but my loathing for this novel increases the more I think about it. I tried to wait a day or two before writing this to clear my head, sleep it off, but I still feel the same way – if not worse – as when I first read the book. The entire plot is laid out in the summary above, so there’s not much in the way of spoilers, but I’ll give the obligatory Possible Spoilers Ahead.

This book was not “sensitive,” “inspirational,” and it damn sure didn’t leave me “with inspiration and hope.” I call BS on the whole thing. I finished the book feeling angry, empty, and depressed. The subject of euthanasia and assisted suicide is touchy and dividing, but there’s a way to do it right. McDaniel did not do it right. When I finished this book I – I kid you not – chucked it to the side and curled up and sobbed. Maybe it’s because of my current life circumstances, or because it was three in the morning after I’d had a crap day, and insomnia was hitting me hard again, but my response was one big NOPE.

This was me

What did I think about the characters? There were four main voices, and we switched every three to four pages. Honestly, the only way I could tell them apart was from the titles alerting me that “Emily is speaking” or “Now it’s Darla’s turn”. Maybe it was because the book was so short, or more likely because this book was about a point McDaniel was making (that everyone should have a dignified death – which I am 1000% in support of). I didn’t really like any of the characters, and none of them were well developed.

Cooper, Travis’s best friend, has a shady past, but it’s only hinted at, and in the end it just gives him a reason to be angsty, not a way for us to connect with him. 

Darla, Travis’s girl friend, has serious problems at home. Hello!!! Her dad hits his wife and Darla! But NO that doesn’t matter because Travis is sick, Travis has cancer. Let’s all ignore everything else to take care of Travis. It just pisses me off so much that McDaniel would use such a heavy device just to get a bit of sympathy for Darla, then leave those open ends because it isn’t related to Travis and his crusade for  suicide.

Emily, Travis’s fifteen-year-old sister, is the most likeable out of all of them. Don’t get excited – it’s only because she really serves no purpose except to provide a different perspective. She’s just a place holder.

And then… Travis. He’s arrogant and a bit full of himself, and when he’s diagnosed with cancer and has his leg cut off to stem its spread, he gets even worse. Of course, when someone is in a health crisis like this, certain allowances must be made. If he wants to be depressed, let him. Wants to be angry? Go for it dude! But when he’s faced with the end of his life, I cannot respect the way he chose to go out. I’m very split on the whole subject of assisted suicide, and my opinion even changes depending on the situation, but in this case I’m very against it, and here’s why:

How can you put something so heavy on your friends, barely adults themselves, and your fifteen year old sister. Do you have any idea how that’s going to affect them, Travis? Do you even care, or are you only thinking of yourself?? How can you ask them to kill you, and then just return to their lives and carry that for the rest of their existence? I understand the need for dignity, the wish to just let go of life, and not remain half-alive only because of machines. I get that. But how can you justify your request? I don’t know, but if it were me I wouldn’t want my last act to be putting that kind of guilt on everyone else. I would hope to be more respectful to my loved ones, even if faced with a slow death. And that’s really what it comes down to for me: a lack of respect.

And the concept and plot? Concept, great. Execution, fail. There really isn’t much of a plot, just one long discussion that leads up to Travis’s death – which in the end isn’t how he wanted to go. He ends up on life support after a seizure and stroke, and finally passes away in the middle of the night. In the very last chapter, however, we find that someone was instrumental in his death. There is no indication of who did it – no hints to let us know who went through with it and killed Travis to avoid a life on machines. This pissed me off too – it’s so ambiguous and left me with no resolution at all. 

What about the writing style? Did not like, at all. Like I said, none of the voices were distinct, and the whole book occupied itself with Travis’s pleas for death. There was no development, no connection. I really felt like the characters were just fuzzy templates used to get McDaniel’s point across. 

Anything else you’d like to add? Don’t read this book. Hands down, no questions asked. My copy was hardback (which I didn’t know when I ordered it) and now I can’t even sell it to my used book store, which only accepts paper. I’m not even sure I’d sell it and have someone else read it. You know what? I gave this book a 2 at first, but I’m lowering it to a 1. 

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3 thoughts on “Breathless

  1. Wow, Kayla, I love reading your rants! I was completely drawn into the premise above, what a shame the author didn’t do it justice. Goes to show the writing can make or break a book.

    Have you read Beautiful Disaster? This is my current read. I picked it up because this was a self-published author who eventually signed with a traditional publisher because her sales on Amazon (with this book) were outstanding. Not sure how I feel about the book. I haven’t read it for a few days, so that can’t be a good sign.

    • I’m glad you like my venting!

      *googles Beautiful Disaster* Hopefully I’m looking at the right one – by Jamie McGuire? The synopsis was kind of interesting, but it sounds like dangerous ground ripe with Mary Sues and Gary Sues. After reading some reviews, it sounds like it ends up being a cross of Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray, as far as the character relationships go. Plus, it was $20 on Amazon. Sorry to hear you’re not enjoying it (and hopefully you didn’t spend that much money? That’s always the worst part)!

  2. Okay, I understand now why it sucked. I just to love her books when I was younger. I think I read over 8 of them. All were about cancer. Idk if I would like them now but she was an inspirational writer back then. Maybe she has lost her touch over the years or this was her sucky one. 😦

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