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TRY NOT TO BREATHE

Haunting, hopeful and masterfully crafted.

Evocative symbols, carefully drawn details and hints of romance enrich a spare, redemptive character study.

Home from a stay at Patterson Hospital following a suicide attempt, Ryan hikes to a powerful waterfall each morning to stand under the crushing spray. Nicki, the younger sister of a boy Ryan knows from school, sees him there one day in August and strikes up a conversation. For the first time, Ryan finds himself opening up to someone besides the two Patterson friends he now talks to by phone and online. As trust, familiarity and perhaps attraction build between the two, Ryan and Nicki reveal pieces of their personal histories, though each still harbors secrets. Defying both sensationalism and cliché, the narrative explores Ryan's suicide attempt and its aftermath with what Ryan calls “Patterson Honesty: the truth, stripped down of all formalities, all politeness.” Although much is made of understanding the past—the shame and numbness that led to Ryan's attempt, the unknowable reasons behind Nicki's father's completed suicide—the story is also about moving forward: Can intimacies built inside a place like Patterson survive outside? How can the parents of a teen who attempts suicide trust their child again? What can we ever truly know about ourselves and each other?

Haunting, hopeful and masterfully crafted. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-01390-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

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IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

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