A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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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.
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- Kids say
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?
- Author: Cammie McGovern
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Friendship, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperTeen
- Publication date: January 7, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 352
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: January 21, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love teen romance and stories involving illness
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.