Elsie can’t piece together what really happened the day her twin brother, Eddie, drowned in the North Sea; she can remember only the time that followed: enduring her parents’ wrecked marriage, bonding with her older brother, Dillon, and secretly talking to Eddie in her head.

Five years later, at sixteen, Elsie is a girl who sneaks cigarettes, steals candy bars, and daydreams during school … anything to distract herself from the sadness at home. Then she meets Tay, a boy who introduces her to freediving, a sport that allows Elsie to confront the rough waters that claimed Eddie’s life.

There, underneath the surface of the sea, Elsie uncovers memories of the day Eddie disappeared … and truths about herself and her family.

(From the inside flap of The Art Of Not Breathing by Sarah Alexander, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016)

The Art Of Not Breathing is Sarah Alexander’s debut novel, and it is an interesting read, to say the least. It centers around Elsie Main, a Scottish girl who is neither pretty or skinny. She is friendless and bullied for her size.

Elsie’s familial relationships are a big part of the novel, she hates her father, her twin brother, Eddie (who had special needs) is dead, and her mother barely gets out of bed or away from alcohol long enough to be a good parent. Elsie is basically on her own, with the exception of her protective older brother, Dillon, who is popular and good looking. Though presented as a golden boy at the beginning of the book, Dillon has his own major issues.

The whole family is hurting because of Eddie’s death five years previously, and much of the character development is made through the family’s grieving process. For Elsie, this grieving process is helped along by freediving with a guy named Tay, his cousin Danny, and his uncle, Mick.

Much of the book is Elsie trying to figure out what happened the day her brother died, and it’s a mystery that kept my attention.

things I liked about this book:

-The brother/sister relationship of Dillon and Elsie. It was very sweet and I liked that by the end, they had sort of switched roles.

-The portrayal of Eddie. Though he was only in the book through Elsie’s imagination of his “ghost,” I quite liked that he wasn’t diminished because of his disability.

-Frankie. He’s a relatively minor character but I enjoyed his interactions with Elsie.

-Elsie’s realness. She was one of the first fat protagonists I’ve read about, and her weight wasn’t an issue like it would be in other books, which is something I liked. Losing weight wasn’t her priority.

-The mystery. Very well-written.

things I disliked:

-Elsie’s weird fetishes. I won’t spoil, but there are some weird situations that I didn’t enjoy reading.

-Tay. I didn’t like him as a character in general, or as a love interest, and I especially didn’t like the way he acted at the end.

-The fact that it switched between flashbacks and present day without any warning or indication that it was in the past.

I enjoyed a lot of this book but altogether it was sort of a one and done read.

Rating: 3 out of 5