Sarah Crossan’s new YA novel explores what would happen if something we all take for granted, the ability to breathe easily, was not available. In Crossan’s dystopian world, people like in a dome and oxygen is no longer a right; the richest can afford to exercise, run, go on holidays outside of the dome with oxygen tanks while poorer people only just have enough air to live and do the minimum.
Told in three distinct perspectives, breathe chronicles three teenagers whose lives intertwine as they discover the truth about the society they are living in on leaving the Pod for a weekend. Alina, a rebel and who wants to claim back oxygen as a right not a privilege and is now on the run; Quinn, a rich boy, intrigued by Alina, and finally Bea, poor, friends with Quinn and frustrated the trip the two of planned has led Quinn to Alina and not her.
By turning something we all value and take as a right into a commodity, Crossan conjures a terrifying world to read. Crossan’s dystopian society is chilling, particularly as the plot develops and we find out more and more about the government and what they have been concealing from the public. I really liked that the society actually were clearly malevolent too, because in some dystopian books I’ve read of late, they can be controlling but with no real fear which I find unconvincing personally.
While the three perspectives took time to get used to, by the second rotation I was starting to feel more comfortable with the narration and all three characters were sufficiently different that their own perspective was useful to the story. I really empathised with Bea, who lives in poorer surroundings than Quinn and is struggling to reconcile her feelings with him as well as a natural undercurrent of jealousy – particularly when he gets into a programme she should have despite not deserving his place. There is a moment where it looks like it will go into a love triangle and more predictable YA, however I felt Crossan explored the dilemma well and didn’t drag it out by resolving it fairly quickly.
While the plot took some time to develop, and with the multiple narrators this was essential, the action and conflict is fantastic the second they leave the pod. The world outside the pod the characters explore is terrifying in some senses, with exiled people and the constant fear of running out of oxygen.
Dystopian fans will find a lot to love in this intelligent YA novel with a breathtakingly terrifying premise. Breathe is out now and published in the UK by Bloomsbury. I received a free proof copy in exchange for my honest review from the publishers. On the 11th October, I will also be posting as part of Breathe’s fab blog tour, which I’m very excited about so do check out that!