Frances is 18 and something of a loner. She lives with her parents and two younger brothers in small-town Alabama. It isn’t until the new boy, John Mullinix or Nix, arrives at her school that Frances’ life cracks open. Frances has been living in the shadow of a traumatic event – an event so horrible that she never talks about it and has, in many ways, surpressed its horror.
Frances’ best friend Ann Mirette insists that Frances tell Nix about her “first family,” but Frances is understandably reluctant. She really likes Nix and one senses that Frances doesn’t form attachments easily. She’s afraid that if she tells Nix what happened in Fireless, he’ll bolt.
Breathe My Name is a beautifully written book about facing your past and freeing yourself from its terrible hold. I don’t want to spoil the novel by spilling Frances’ closely guarded secrets. She’s been protected by her parents for eleven years, but the past has a way of finding you even when you’re trying desperately to hide from it.
I gladly went along with Frances on her journey to adulthood but I do have one niggle with the book. I just didn’t buy what happened in Charleston. The book had this beautiful rhythm going and Nelson deftly handled the past and the present, but the climax of the novel just felt out of place and Carruther’s motivation seemed like an afterthought. One of those: okay now why would this guy behave in this manner, wait, let’s make him an obsessed psychopath sort of solutions. I would have been just as happy if after he set Frances on her journey he was never heard from again.
Still, in the great scheme of things it hardly matters. Breathe My Name had lovely things to say about family and the courage it takes to confront your past and, more importantly, forgive yourself for surviving it.