Cheryl Renée Herbsman’s debut YA novel, Breathing, is a seriously romantic summer story, that I think is bound to appeal to many lovestruck teens. Savannah Georgina Brown lives with her mama and her brother Dog (Dogwood for long) in a super small house in an “itty bitty town” on the Carolina coast. Her daddy off and disappeared soon after Savannah’s birth and from the day he left, Savannah has struggled with serious asthma attacks and her mama has had to work twice as hard to keep the family running right and to pay for Savannah’s medical care. Savannah is a really good girl. She’s smart. She loves to read. She keeps an eye on her brother without much complaining, even though he is completely annoying and she must be the only teenage girl in the country who has to share a bedroom with her younger brother. Life becomes a whole lot less ordinary when she meets the gorgeous and charming Jackson Channing, who makes Savannah feel something she hasn’t experienced before. Suddenly a true romance springs to life beyond the pages of Savannah’s beloved romance novels, and when the young couple faces separation, Savannah wonders how she will stand losing the one person who seems to help her breathe easier.
I like what Cheryl Herbsman’s book says about the delicate balance between family responsibility and following your own dreams. It takes Savannah quite a while to become sure enough in herself to take the first big step away from home and the safety of what she knows best. This inner-journey was conveyed believably and I imagine that readers will find much to connect with in the way Savannah grows into herself throughout the novel. I found the strong Southern dialect that Herbsman was working with took some getting used to, especially for somebody like me who has absolutely no experience hearing or reading that way of speaking. It was a bit jarring at first, but I did find it less so as I moved through the story, once I had read enough of it for it to seem more normal. The intensity of young love comes through well. You really get a sense of how Savannah and Jackson feel so much in such a short time, in a way that is difficult for adults to understand. I thought this was an interesting theme to highlight in the book. As a side note, Cheryl Renée Herbsman reveals in her author bio that she experienced falling in love as a teen and the subsequent challenge of a long-distance relationship. Her then boyfriend is now her husband of 20 years. Clearly, this is territory that she remembers, which helps her to communicate her characters’ feelings convincingly.
Visit Cheryl’s lovely website for lots more on her writing. She’ll be here tomorrow for an interview too!
Breathing is available April 16th from Viking.