Just Breathe

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Just Breathe Book Poster Image
Gentle, quirky hospital tale will appeal to romance fans.

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a lot about cystic fibrosis: What it is, how it's treated, what coping with it is like, and what some of the complications and dangers of living with it are. They'll also learn about depression: What it does, some treatment options, and coping with it.

Positive Messages

If you take a risk, especially an emotional one, you may surprise yourself by learning something about yourself and your capabilities, which can boost your self confidence and help you grow as a person. Find happiness in what's in front of you right now, no matter what else is going on around you. If you're depressed, you have to ask for help and accept it when it's offered. Having something real and meaningful in your life, instead of just going through motions or trying to live up to others' expectations, can be scary, but ultimately you'll be much happier.

Positive Role Models & Representations

David's a high-achieving, college-bound senior. His cystic fibrosis is becoming more acute, and he's thinking a lot about what his shorter life expectancy means and how it affects what he should or wants to do with his life. Jamie's a sophomore who's mostly just trying to get by. She's trying to cope with depression and a past tragedy, and has become fairly isolated at school. She carves her own path in life, and starts learning to reconnect and re-engage when she goes back to her artwork. They both break hospital rules with life-threatening consequences. David's parents are loving but afraid to engage emotionally. His younger sister, Eileen, engages in risky behavior like going to parties with much older teens, but she's a loving, loyal, supportive sister and friend.


Jamie's father committed suicide by overdose. Jamie also took an overdose and was hospitalized for several weeks for depression. Both events are described in the past without a lot of detail and no gory descriptions.


Mention of having sex in the past and always having to be on towels and needing lots of tissues to clean up afterward. A few kisses, none described in detail. An emotional and physical connection while dancing is described as more intimate than sex. Speculation and implications about a teen brought home from a party by police not wearing much in terms of clothing.


Rare. "Slutty," "crap," and "f--k."


An important event takes place in a Denny's. A few household or other products mentioned incidentally. Prozac mentioned a couple of times as a treatment for depression.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention of Eileen's risky behavior at parties with older kids; nothing is specified and we don't know what really happened. A drunk girl falling down bleacher stairs in the past mentioned. A few medications and treatments relating to cystic fibrosis mentioned, as well as taking medication as part of treatment for depression.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Just Breathe is a gentle romance with a terminal-illness-type backdrop. One character has cystic fibrosis, struggles with an acute episode with extensive hospitalization, and thinks a lot about his shortened life expectancy. The other main character has chronic depression and is trying to learn to live with the condition, which she knows will flare up unpredictably for the rest of her life. It's pretty light on the sexy stuff, with a few mentions of not-very-enjoyable sex in the past involving lots of towels and tissues for clean-up; otherwise there are a few kisses, but nothing's described in detail. Strong language is very rare but includes a few uses of "f--k" and its variations. No alcohol or tobacco use except seeing someone drunk in the past and some risky behavior by a younger sister at parties, but no details are given about what happened. A few instances of drugs mentioned in the context of medical treatment. Parental loss to suicide and a past suicide attempt are themes, but there's no gore or detailed descriptions. Other themes explored include carving your own path in life instead of doing what everyone else expects, and opening yourself up to the risk of pain and disappointment in order to experience happiness.

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written byBookWorm4456 May 15, 2020

Definitely a page-turner!!!

As a mature 8th grader, I really loved this book. I will admit, sex was mentioned a few times (like "needing towels to clean up after") but nothing to... Continue reading

What's the story?

JUST BREATHE is the story of how high-achieving, popular, high-school senior David meets and befriends sophomore Jamie, who isn't even on the social radar at school. David has cystic fibrosis, and a flare-up lands him in the hospital where Jamie volunteers, and where various setbacks keep David hospitalized for many weeks. Jamie's coping with the recent loss of her father, and with depression, which is more than enough for anyone. As David and Jamie's friendship starts to deepen into maybe something more, they expose each other to different ideas and ways of looking at things. But when they break the rules and leave the hospital without permission, they unknowingly put David's life in danger, landing him in the ICU barely clinging to life. If David manages to pull through, can things ever be the same between them?

Is it any good?

Fans of Cammie McGovern will enjoy this gentle romance that does a good job of balancing life-threatening illness and romance without being too sentimental or weepy. This is mostly thanks to the believable and down-to-earth voices of the two main characters, who take turns narrating events and moving the plot and the romance along. It lets us know their inner thoughts while also showing us how the other sees them. It also thoughtfully explores coming-of-age themes like deciding your own future, coping with chronic conditions, mortality, and losing a parent.

The romance itself follows a pretty predictable trajectory in a terminal-illness-type setting that's been explored before. So it's unlikely to appeal to readers who aren't already romance fans. But those who are will enjoy the story and interesting characters that populate it. Themes of parental loss and suicide make it best for teens and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Does the way Just Breathe depicts cystic fibrosis and depression seem realistic? What did you learn about either condition that you didn't know before? 

  • What makes Jamie and David positive role models? What are their character strengths? Is there anything you didn't like?

  • Have you read any other books by Cammie McGovern? Which did you like best? If you haven't, would you like to now?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love teen romance and stories involving illness

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