Just Breathe

HarperTeen. Jan. 2020. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062463357.
Gr 8 Up–High school sophomore Jamie Turner hasn’t had friends in more than a year—she lashed out at them after her father’s death, and now she eats lunch alone. Senior class president David Sheinman has lots of friends and a talented girlfriend, but he’s afraid that the truth will scare them away—David has cystic fibrosis, and less than two years to live without a lung transplant. Jamie serves as a volunteer at the hospital, where she and David meet and bond despite the differences in their social strata. David is grateful for Jamie’s willingness to engage with the weighty issues he’s grappling with. For Jamie, helping David also helps her recover from the depression she has struggled with since her father’s death by suicide. But when David’s definition of “helping” evolves from watching old movies and learning origami to sneaking out of the hospital, Jamie’s choices unintentionally put David’s life at risk and lead everyone around them to question whether their relationship is healthy or harmful. Alternating between Jamie’s and David’s perspectives, this book offers a gentle, slow-burn romance between two struggling teens who forge a deep connection based on experiences that are not common to the age group. Fans of the author’s previous titles will find familiarity in the presence of nuanced characters who refuse to be defined by their disabilities or illnesses, and quiet, compassionate Jamie is a particularly appealing protagonist whose journey through grief and depression is portrayed sensitively and realistically. However, the pacing slows toward the middle of the book and some events feel forced to manufacture sufficient drama.
VERDICT A sweet, hopeful romance that tackles big questions about life and death, perfect for fans of Rachael Lippincott’s Five Feet Apart or John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

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