Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Breathe by Sarah Crossan
Author: Sarah Crossan
Pages: 400 pages
Rating: 4/5 Stars
The concept that fuels Breathe is fascinating - in an attempt to grow food for the Earth's ballooning population, the entire planet is deforested for farmland. The logic is that there will be enough oxygen being produced by the oceans to sustain life.
That logic proves faulty.
Oxygen levels in the atmosphere deplete to 4% and the world descends into anarchy and chaos. Domes - called pods - are erected across the planet to sustain life and oxygen becomes more valuable than gold. An oxygen tax is imposed upon the populace and class lines become even more clearly drawn. Oxygen is pumped directly into people's homes and closely monitored by the government, speed patrols exist on the street to prevent people from walking more than 3 mph and exercise becomes a privelege of the wealthy. Aided by air tanks, holidays are taken outside of the Pod to take in the carnage left behind after The Switch.
A resistance exists among those in the Pod - of course - and the three main characters of Sarah Crossan's novel get caught up in it. One by choice, two by accident. The story follows Alina, Bea and Quinn as they discover dark truths about the lives they have led and are forced to question their beliefs.
I really enjoyed Breathe. I read it in one day - partly, I'll admit, because I'm so behind on my reading goal. While certain things are constant in dystopic novels - the governing body that controls the populace with half-truths and an iron fist and the resistance that works against them - I'm always fascinated to explore each author's vision and discover what happened to bring about this dark future. I'll admit, I scoffed at the idea of the entire planet being deforested. I know that it's a problem - a scary, disheartening one - but the notion that an entire planet with a population so vast that it needs all of the land mass available for farming food could subsist on the oxygen put off by the ocean is so far-fetched as to be unbelievable.
But whatever. I'll let it slide.
Alina, Bea and Quinn are great protagonists. Crossan writes each chapter from a different character's POV which isn't anywhere near as confusing as I thought it might be. I think maybe once or twice I had to go back and double check who's perspective I was getting, but that was usually because I was so eager to find out what came next that I didn't pay close enough attention to the chapter title. It was really cool to see each character from a different character's perspective, to explore their strengths and weaknesses from all sides. It made the characters more real and put personality quirks that could have become annoying into perspective.
Breathe is more than just the title of the book, it is also the name of the main governing body within the Pods. Throughout the course of the book, we learn more about Breathe and the unsavory methods they're using to stay in power. What I found interesting, however, is the way Crossan also undermines Alina's - and I'll admit my - assumption that the resistance is perfect. Petra, the leader of Alina's faction of the resistance, is pretty awful, having become as much of an iron fist in her desire to protect the trees as the Pod Minister has in his ruling of the people. (It reminded me of District 13 in Mockingjay.) We see Alina's view of the world falter in the same way that Bea and Quinn's falters.
Crossan creates a very vivid world, both within the Pod and without. She's paid close attention to detail and taken advantage of her premise to highlight the ways we take oxygen for granted. Homes have airlocks to aid in the careful monitoring of oxygen use, plants and pets are forbidden. Couples must apply to have children and any show of affection must be carefully weighed against the oxygen tax that may be levied due to the increased consumption. The barren landscape outside of the Pods is equally vivid and macabre. One of my favorite moments in the book occurs when Bea arrives at The Grove and sees the trees for the first time. I really felt the awe, joy and shock at coming face to face with something that she had considered a fairy tale her entire life.
Some things that didn't work -
While Crossan makes the wise choice of dolling out her exposition throughout the course of the story, there are some questions that are never answered to my satisfaction. One, I already mentioned. How did anyone convince the world that we could get enough oxygen from the ocean to survive?
Another question that is never answered is why time is divided into before The Switch and after The Switch. Now, I do grasp the concept that The Switch is being used to identify the moment when oxygen became the most valuable thing on the planet, but Crossan never explains the use of the phrase 'The Switch.'
Crossan's three main characters read young. Very young. That's not a problem, necessarily, but it's something that stuck out to me. They're supposed to be sixteen or seventeen and I felt like they were thirteen or fourteen.
There is a love triangle, but it's weakly executed and somewhat unnecessary. I can't decide if I think it was thrown in there because all YA novels must have a love triangle/romance or if Crossan really felt that it was a dynamic part of her story. Either way, it's a minor subplot that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel any more than my incredulity over the premise.
Breathe is the first in a series and while this book does wrap up the action with an air of finality, it definitely doesn't stand alone. That's not a fault, that's just a fact. I am definitely interested in reading the next book in the series. Crossan is a very capable writer and I very much enjoyed her characters and the world she created.