Breathless – Jessica Warman

breathlessA few months back I read Jessica Warman’s novel, Between, and although I didn’t love it straight off it definitely grew on me. A student in my writing class saw Breathless on my bookshelf and told me that I had to read it next. All I can say is that I kept reading for her because there’s really nothing to recommend this book.

Breathless was written when Warman herself was just out of high school and sadly, that’s how it reads. The novel is apparently semi-autobiographical and tells the story of Katie Kitrell, a fifteen-year-old championship swimmer with an alcoholic mother, workaholic father and psychopathic older brother.  When her brother, Will, goes off the deep end again, Katie’s parents make the decision to send her off to boarding school. Breathless ends up cramming every possible teenage trope into its 331 pages: friendship, drinking, religion, sex, drugs, wealth, first love, jealousy, mean girls and damaged girls etc etc.

The characterization is all over the place, too. At the beginning of the novel Katie seems to almost idolize her brother. They spend hours on the roof of their house smoking and talking, but Katie can always sense “his emotional axis shifting a little, off-kilter. It’s something I’ve come to call privately the kaleidoscope pf crazy- shimmering and beautiful in certain lights, paisley and horrifying in others.”

Her parents seem unable to cope. Her father, a doctor, just works more and her mother paints and drinks. In no way is Katie’s family functional.

Once she goes off to school the focus shifts away from her family and we are forced to endure 1) the bitchy pretty girl with whom everyone wants to be friends and her 2) nice but kowtowing friend and 3) Katie’s MIA roommate who suddenly shows up but barely says a word and 4) the most perfect boy in the world who just happens to fall in love with Katie.

Nothing happens, though. This is a coming-of-age story and there are some lovely moments here (it’s clear that Warman has talent) but Breathless  is in desperate need of an editor. It’s biceps not bicep and the glaring error in this sentence almost made me shut the book for good “…all of our hands, white gloves pulled taught  and flawless over out fingers-” Who is editing books these days anyway?

Warman clearly had a story to tell and even at a young age, she had the ability to tell it, but the novel’s uneven characterization and bloodless plot made this a miss for me.