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JUST BREATHE

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 1 year, 4 months ago

16 February 2020 JUST BREATHE by Cammie McGovern, Harper Teen, January 2020, 352p., ISBN: 978-0-06-246335-7

 

“Breathe, breathe in the air”

-- Pink Floyd (1973)

 

Popular Senior Class president David Sheinman has cystic fibrosis and has ended up in the hospital, unable to adequately function in his normal world of school, extracurriculars, and college applications.  There’s no question: He needs a new pair of lungs way more than an Ivy League acceptance letter.

 

“DAVID

 

Apparently, my mother is softening. She’s talked to enough outside specialists to agree with Dr C’s assessment, and now my parents are doing what’s required to get me on the transplant list. They’re submitting their own health histories and talking to a psychologist about their ability to support me for the year I’ll spend recovering from the operation. 

‘A year?’ I gasp when I hear this. ‘Is that what they’re saying?’

‘Yes,’ my mom says. ‘That’s what they’re saying.

This news sends me back to the message boards on my CF websites. My mother doesn’t think I should spend too much time on these boards. ‘It’s not good for you to read depressing stories. CF is the only thing you have in common, and you aren’t defined by your disease.’ I don’t tell her, I’ve been lying in bed for three weeks, draining bile from my chest and breathing with one lung. At this point, I’m pretty defined by my disease.

 

Sophomore Jamie Turner already knows who David is when she unexpectedly meets him in the hospital where, after school, she’s serving as a Smile Awhile volunteer. 

 

“JAMIE

 

It’s unnerving how often I channel my dad’s joking style when I’m talking to David. Whenever he mentions it, some part of me forgets for a second and wants to say, ‘If you think I’m funny, you should meet my dad.’ Then I go quiet.

Recently a new worry has cropped up in my mind: David likes the Dad-like qualities in me most of all. Even as I find comfort in being like my mom--working hard, thinking about others, learning practical skills--my dad is in me, too, popping out daily to make this boy laugh. It feels like a high-wire act, too risky to get away with for long. I can’t imitate parts of my charming, suicidal father and be sure that only the charming part comes out.”

 

When Jamie first encounters David in his hospital bed, he’s in extreme pain and struggling to breathe. She quickly summons a nurse. Afterward, David emails Jamie to thank her and suggest they communicate. As they get to know one another, she ends up becoming his emotional support system, regularly exchanging emails and texts, stopping by to see him, lending him copies of the classic films her late father had turned her onto, and teaching him to do origami. David has a girlfriend, but Sharon’s pretty much missing in action.

 

David and Jamie find that they can uncharacteristically be their unguarded selves when they talk or email or watch movies or fold paper with one another.

 

What David doesn’t know is that Jamie is in really bad shape, too. She spent her childhood being homeschooled by her artist father before attending “real” school. Then she was the one who found her dead father, from whom she’d inherited depression as well as artistic talent. Eventually, also suffering from depression along with feelings of guilt, she’d almost succeeded in killing herself, too. She spent time in a psychiatric hospital and underwent counseling before returning to school and starting the volunteer gig at the hospital where her mom works.

 

The story, told in alternating perspectives, shows the pair become closer and closer. David, who increasingly yearns to escape the confines of the hospital for a brief respite and fresh air, eventually persuades Jamie to assist him in sneaking out. Jamie knows about David’s girlfriend, but falls into imagining these outings as dates. 

 

Eventually one of their escapades goes south and Jamie has to call for an ambulance. 

 

David falls into a coma, and that’s the end of Jamie being permitted to see him. The messy aftermath involves furious parents, hospital officials, and lawyers.

 

Amidst this drama, a third troubled character, David’s younger sister Eileen, makes the story even more powerful and cohesive. David wants Jamie to befriend and influence her. Eileen eventually becomes the person who, in some critical situations, can see what her brother and Jamie cannot.

 

The accurate, in-depth depictions of CF and depression are enlightening and add to the tension. 

 

Will they survive? Can they help heal one another? While published under the teen inprint, there’s nothing here that makes me hesitate to share it with seventh and eighth graders, with whom it will be extremely popular. While there is potential for romance mixed into the medical drama, the story here is foremost about taking risks to be a caring and thoughtful friend.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com

https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/

richiepartington@gmail.com  

 

 

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