Reason to Breathe (Breathing #1) by Rebecca Donovan
Penguin (Jan 2013) | Paperback, 544 pages
New Adult, Contemporary Romance

I respect the hell out of Reason to Breathe for broaching the subject of child abuse in the straight-forward way that it did. I like the fact that it was unflinching about the raw subject matter, that Rebecca Donovan was unafraid of portraying quite graphic violence. The way that we, as the reader- but somehow placed in Emily’s shoes – never saw the violence coming, despite the constant threat, was really well done. There was the feeling that Emily’s aunt could appear at any moment of the novel to ruin her life even more – something she was completely able to do without being present.

I hated Carol vehemently: she is a small child trapped in a grown woman’s body, one who wants her own way and will do whatever is necessary to get it. The issue is that she doesn’t seem to know what it is that she wants: one moment she is saying she shouldn’t have let Emily live under her roof, and the next she is putting her under house arrest. In fact, most of Carol’s actions are irrational: her acts of violence generally seem spur-of-the-moment, as though Emily has just done something to really annoy her, when she tries her utmost to keep out of the way.

‘Leave it.’

I turned towards her. Her back was shielding the kids from witnessing her venomous glare. ‘You didn’t ask for it on your list so I didn’t buy it for you. Leave it.’ She held out her hand.

I set the granola bar in her hand and was instantly freed from her crushing grip.

We don’t know why it is that Carol is violent to her niece, although she often uses the word ‘slut’ in her verbal attacks, and talks about her sleeping with people, which might be a clue. It does seem as though Rebecca Donovan is working up to a reveal of the reasons in one of the sequels, although I don’t know what could explain Carol’s almost crazed level of hatred.

You could assume that since I hated Carolyn that I liked or even loved Emily as a character. I didn’t. I can understand a lot of her actions, such as her avoidance of people, her submergence in afterschool activities to keep away from home, and even, to some extent, her reasons for not reporting her aunt to the school and saying ‘good riddance’ when she was taken to prison, or perhaps some sort of mental health facility. Emily is not in a rational situation, and I think it is a bit much to expect that her actions be rational when she is in such circumstances. What I don’t understand, or like, is her complete naivety to the ways of the world in which she lives. She doesn’t realise that high school boys probably want sex (big shocker), despite having a friend who enjoys frequent sexual experiences, and who tries to help her and include her at every opportunity. She holds herself aloof from everyone at her school, and this seems to make her a mystery to her peers – especially the boys who all act as though she is god’s gift. She constantly needs things that seem obvious to be explained to her by Sara, who is her long-suffering best friend.

I loved Sara – everyone needs a friend like Sara: she’s experienced so she can help with any boy problems, she’s forgiving, and she genuinely cares about her friend. Even when Emily recycles the insults that are used against her and accuses her friend of being a slut, Sara is much more forgiving than I would have been and is soon back to attempting to be the voice of reason. She respects that Emily can make her own decisions, and merely helps in whatever ways she can. Although she would like to see Emily and Evan together, she is perfectly willing to help Emily in her quest to keep him at arms’ length. Evan is … interesting. I wouldn’t describe him as hot, or an alpha male, or many of the myriad things that I have seen him described as, but he is concerned for Emily’s well-being and determined to be with her even though he knows there is something going on that makes it difficult

I know I’ve focussed a lot on the characters, but not that much actually happens in this novel: besides the obvious violent acts, it’s just very normal teenage stuff that occurs. In a way this upped the tension when the acts of violence did occur, but I think there was just too much monotony for this to be truly effective.  This book involves a lot of back-and-forth with Emily and Evan, which I did not enjoy. I can understand why Emily would not want to open herself up to the pain of a relationship, and I could understand if she had decided to say ‘bugger it’ and taken her happiness where she could. The way she constantly dithers between the two states is very annoying, however. It seems merely to be a plot device to fill in some pages, especially as she later starts a relationship quite easily with someone else. I think the attempt to add to the novel was unnecessary as I feel that the novel could have done with being shorter. The good thing about the length was that it amped up the tension on the way to the ending which is a bit of a cliff-hanger, to say the least.


This book was, all in all, a good read. Usually I read books more for the relationships than any other aspect. In this case I was disappointed with the romance, but the unflinching portrayal of a generally avoided subject matter more than made up for it. Evan was a solid male lead, and I think that the romance could develop into something more satisfying in the sequel, depending on the outcome of the cliff-hanger ending, of course!


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  1. Reason to Breathe
  2. Barely Breathing
  3. Out of Breath (July 2013)




I am a recent University graduate with a BA in English and an undiminished love of reading. I will give pretty much anything a go – although I do have a fondness for both paranormal and historical romance, urban fantasy and historical biographies. I always have my head in a book, and I have a problem – I can’t stop buying books! [Bobby no longer reviews for BCC]


Carolyn March 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm

This sounds interesting but I’m not sure it’s for me. I was hoping it had a lot more romance but from your review it’s more about abuse etc. Great review.


Bobby March 23, 2013 at 3:57 am

I don’t think it’s that there was a lack of romance as such: it was more that in this particular case the romance didn’t do it for me. There was a lot of back-and-forth, and angst that I thought was unneccessary to the plot. That might still mean that it’s not for you, but I thought I would clarify LOL.
I think Rebecca Donovan wrote a romance aspect to the story, but tried to use it to heighten the suspense, when I think there was enough tension with the abuse plot.

Thank you :).


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