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Breathless by Jennifer Niven

A confession and apology are in order! Not having read Jennifer Niven’s critically acclaimed previous novels (All the Bright Places and Holding Up The Universe), I starting reading Breathless with the preset notion in mind that it was going to be a ‘cliched light love story’. How wrong was I and happily so!

Breathless, published by Penguin Books, is the story of Claudine Henry, a teenager on the brink of adulthood. Like most teenagers, she is dramatic and shallow (read – thinks mainly about boys and sex). Being an only child (if you don’t count the dog and cat), she has doting parents with whom she has different but loving equations and an amazing best friend who is more than a sister. 

She dreams of becoming a writer like her mother and going on a road trip with her best friend post-graduation. Doesn’t it sound normal but boring? Well, this is when life throws her a curve ball. Her parents are unexpectedly separating and she is to leave with her mother to stay on a secluded island for more than a month. Not fair right? That too just when the guy she likes starts showing an interest in her and she is looking forward to the vacation and road trip with her best friend. In her words, the floor under her feet ‘disappears’. She feels uprooted and betrayed and sulks till they reach the island and start settling down. This is when the story turns around, sinks its teeth into you and refuses to let go till the end.

“I step off the ferry and my eyes meet his. And, for a fraction of a moment, less than a millisecond, I freeze and he seems to freeze too.” This is how Claudine describes her first meeting with Jeremiah Crew, a ‘live by my rules’ kind of badass guy, hero to Claudine’s heroine. And thus, begins a sugar and spice kind of romance which gradually develops into a serious relationship. 

At the end of summer, Claudine is set to go to college and Jeremiah to Montana. The million-dollar question is – What will be their fate – will they part ways or find a way to be together? Do they get their happily ever after or painful memories of a lifetime? Actually, this answer seems irrelevant at the end of the book. One can only unsuccessfully try to control the overflowing emotions. This book leaves a lump in the throat and forces you to feel – be it pain, acceptance or conviction. 

Surprisingly, once you complete the last word, the story ceases to matter. What stays with you are the small nuances – the dichotomy of the Claudine’s character from immature to self-assured, the memorable analogies of the turtle hatchling and shark teeth and the other ‘misfits’ of the island. All the relationships are expounded well and unravel beautifully whether it is the romantic relationship between Claudine and Jeremiah, the loving relationship between Claudine and her mother, the estranged but improving relationship between Claudine and her father, the fun and unbreakable friendship between Claudine and Saz and short but meaningful relationships that Claudine has with the misfits and Terri on the island. Other positives that add-on to the pull of the book are the descriptions of nature and historical references. 

This is a wonderful and enlightening read for young adults. Life will always drop obstacles in your path but how you deal with them is a true test of your personality and character. All relationships have an impact on us – some give us comfort and make us feel protected and there are some rare ones which leave us with memories that make us feel invincible despite the loss. In this digital age and pandemic, the value of such books grows tenfold as it stresses the importance of relationships and sentiments. One word comes to mind to describe the experience of reading Breathless – Profound!

Karishma Shah

Karishma Shah is a counsellor, who is passionate about reading books. While she is open to reading a variety of genres, fiction is where her heart lies!