With Breathe, Sarah Crossan has taken the now-familiar dystopian format and injected a more explicitly eco twist. Set in the not too distant future, on what is still recognisably Earth, it explores what happens when ecological catastrophe means that the air we breathe because the most precious and sought after of all commodities.
Right now, with so many dystopian titles out there now, it is getting more difficult for an author to stand out from the pack. Crossan achieves that not so much be her characterisation and plotting, we’ll come back to those in a minute, but through the way in which she manages to entwine some very relevant questions around current global environmental policies and the way in which 21st century big business operates into the plot in a teen-friendly way. The consequences of global warming are vividly depicted and should lead to some interesting conversations about eco-awareness.
Breathe features the now-familiar tropes of YA dystopian fiction: the love triangle (two girls and a boy this time), the oppressive government with a hidden agenda, a rebel band of outcasts who know too much, and the feisty, beautiful-but-doesn’t-know-it teenage girl, here named Alina. However, rather than adopting the standard dystfic tactic of writing the novel from Alina’s point of view, Crossan uses first person narrative, shifting round the different members of the protagonistic triad, to good effect to give more rounded portraits of the supporting characters.
Breathe got off to a bit of a slow start for me, and I found that familiarity with conventions of the genre made it a little too predictable, but it is an enjoyable read and the cliffhanger ending left me with high hopes that the sequel will prove even better. I would have no hesitation in recommending it to an 11-14 year-old who has already read The Hunger Games, Divergent or The Carbon Diaries and is looking for a well-written eco-thriller or dystopian title.
Breathe, Sarah Crossan, Bloomsbury, £6.99