Breathing Underwater

Holiday House. Mar. 2024. 224p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823453863.
Gr 9 Up–Tess is a 17-year-old with a bright future. Though her family doesn’t have much money, she’s almost guaranteed a swimming scholarship from her preferred school, particularly if she performs well at nationals. She has caring parents and a loving, if quirky, older sister. Tess is training for nationals when a sudden seizure and hospitalization leave her life filled with uncharacteristic uncertainty. She struggles to navigate her new situation. She must surrender her driver’s license and her lifeguarding job while she undergoes testing and evaluation for epilepsy. Her parents disagree over her safety protocols, her best friend and teammate suddenly becomes distant, and she meets a possible new boyfriend at the worst possible time. Written in the first-person, this novel is a short, concentrated look at both competitive swimming and epilepsy. Tess shows the commitment and stress of being a high-level athlete—a stress intensified by her seizure. She is, by turns, frightened, angry, despondent, and determined. With the exception of the requisite high-school mean girl, all of the characters have depth and speak with dialogue that rings true and current but doesn’t come off as overly trendy.
VERDICT Tess’s story is compelling. Her medical visits, uncertainty, and eventual epilepsy diagnosis offer a realistic look at this hidden condition that is both enigmatic and common. The added fact that one in 26 people have epilepsy should make this a must-have for school and public libraries.

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