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on January 10, 2012
At a glance:

Don't Breathe a Word is an amazingly powerful and fantastically written book that shows you the harsh realities of abuse, teenage homelessness, and other tough issues, without being depressing or losing that sense of hope I long for when reading a book. It was heartbreaking, but it was also funny and exciting and romantic and beautiful. Even if you don't normally read contemporary, I think you will love this book.


I don't read a whole lot of contemporary. Especially books that tend to deal with issues, whether it's abuse, disorders, drugs, or the like. I just tend lean more toward fantasy, paranormal, or dystopia. But I did read Holly Cupala's Tell Me a Secret and really connected with it, so I was excited to read Don't Breathe a Word, to see what Holly would do this time. This book blew the roof off any contemporary I've ever read. I loved it!

I think this has a lot to do with the fact that Holly wrote it in such a way that you never felt hopeless. You could always see a light at the end of the tunnel. She also wrote in past and present, using flashbacks to reveal more and more about why Joy ran away, and the abuse and shame that she had to endure before leaving. There was a mystery element the book had that added to the appeal of the story, and the pacing was perfect.

I fell in love with each and every one of the characters. Ok, maybe not Asher.....ack! But the others, even when they were being total idiots, I just wanted to adopt them, and take care of them and tell them they are worth something. I loved Joy, and CREED!!! Especially Creed! I loved that even though he was a broken person, he still did all he could to protect the others. I can't tell you how much I love listening to someone play guitar and sing, so I could just hear Creed in my head. Two of the characters I felt the most for, though, were May and Santos. They seriously just made me want to cry.

Holly did such an amazing job with the intensity and the setting as well. I was in constant fear for the lives of these kids. Whether it was from creepy stalker guy, or Asher, or the police, or other gangs, my nerves were standing on end all the time. I felt like I could see the places that they were living and "working" at in Seattle. I've never been there before, yet I could picture it all clearly in my head. Some will undoubtedly say that the ending was unrealistic, but just because something isn't probable, it doesn't mean it couldn't happen. I thought it was perfect. I would have been upset with anything less.

I loved this book!


Sexual Content: Heavy
Profanity: Very Heavy
Violence: Moderate, including abuse
Other Notables: Drinking, Drug use, Prostitution, Teenage Homelessness, Theft
For more details, check out Don't Breathe a Word on
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on September 30, 2012
My little sister and I read vastly different literature. She sticks nearly solely to dark contemporary literature, while I like to stay with my fantasy and science-fiction. Every now and then, we flop and read something in the genre that the other loves - I usually do it unprompted, my sister upon my recommendation.

The moment I finished this book, I walked into her room, put it into her hands, and said, "Read this."

I liked this book a lot. Not enough to keep my copy and demand my sister get her own, but it is one of the best pieces of contemporary fiction that I've read in a very long time. Cupala manages to capture the emotion that teenagers experience when they're trapped in a situation that they can only see one way out of. From the first page, I pitied Joy - her weakness, her own entrapment, the birdcage she had set for herself. I hated Asher. I loved Neeta and how she kept trying to help Joy, even when Joy herself thought she was lost forever. I pitied May and how she kept getting sucked back into the same routine. I adored Creed and everything he stood for. And my love for Santos knows no bounds - though that may just be because he paralleled their lives to Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.

[SPOILER ALERT] For all the superamazingness that is most of the novel, the ending, of course, is a bit unrealistic. All of the characters get some variation of a happy ending or a comeuppance. The optimist in me loves that, and the reviewer in me goes, "Hey, that shouldn't have happened!" But my optimist keeps winning on this one. [END SPOILER ALERT]

Given how often library books were brought into the story, I'd love to recommend the fictional Joy one - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. With all the problems she had breaking out of her birdcage, I think she'd understand Jane, and how she was "no bird; and no net ensnared [her]; [she] was a free human being with an independent will."
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on February 29, 2012
This novel shows just how little it takes for a girl to go from happy and somewhat normal to controlled and abused. Joy, though having severe asthma and being constantly watched by her family for the first signs of an illness, has friends that she laughs with and talks to. She is well adjusted and generally okay, though feeling a bit suffocated by all the attention at home. But along comes Asher, much older and wiser, rich, powerful, mysterious and he shows an interest in Joy. That's almost all it takes. She gives up complete control to him and loses herself to his needs, wants and desires. She believes everything he tells her, his threats, his anger-she did this, she brought it on herself, she belongs to him-she is his property.
Again, she is suffocated by his attention, his "love", his threats.

The book opens with her cutting her long hair off, twenty inches of it and stuffing it in an envelope. She dyes her dark hair blonde, white blonde along with her eyebrows. She doesn't want to be found. She fakes her own kidnapping. And she flees to the "safety" of the streets of Seattle. The streets where she saw a boy who told her he could help her.

It's risky and I think Joy is reckless considering how close she comes to dying when she even gets a cold. She prepares with several inhalers, but what good is that against infection? She's doe eyed when she hits the streets. She doesn't realize what could happen to her. I think it's stupid considering what you read in the papers. Her goal is to find the boy who said he could help her. In the meantime, she stick out like a sore thumb. I also don't think her reaction to living on the street is quite what it should be. In just a few days, she goes from eating at a table and wearing designer clothes, to eating out of a dumpster and wearing Salvation Army clothes. But she doesn't seem to be as bothered by it as she should be. She lives in a house that smells like crap, literally and that's where she goes to the bathroom. In a toilet that hasn't flushed for years.

However, I don't think this was a book so much about living on the streets as it was about Joy, being so desperate, that she gave up her life of middle class luxury and her family, to live on the streets to escape an abusive boyfriend because that was the only way out that she saw. She'd never told anyone so she didn't have anyone to turn to for help. She doesn't even confide in her "street family". There are some realities of
what it's like for teens living on the street and the reasons they do. Abusive parents, foster care, drugs. The reasons go on and when they hit the streets bad things can happen.

But this novel shows how good things can happen, too. Not necessarily from living on the street, but from finding people to care about and care about you. How to start healing from the hurt. How to get stronger and believe in yourself. What it takes to walk away.

Yes, there is some romance, not much of it, but Creed, the protector of the group and the boy that said he could help Joy is one of a kind. He's sensitive and tough all at once. But not the brooding type. Tough as in street smarts. I liked his character a lot. He was always worried about his friends/family.

May, the other girl in the story was an enigma to me. I wasn't sure what was going on with her. I liked her at times and not at others and never really figured out her relationship with Santos, the other member of the "family." We never get the full story on Santos, at least not from his lips, but I think we can piece it together and it's sad.

The author's note in the back of the book states that Seattle has one of the highest population of homeless teens in the United States. In the US alone we have 1.6 million homeless teens. The story in this book was just a sampling of the reasons teens leave home.

For me, the title had so many meanings. Asher would not want her to Breathe a Word of what he was doing to her. She couldn't Breathe a Word to her family without jeopardizing the family's well being. And on the street she couldn't have anyone Breathe a Word because she'd be found out. Then, when she has an asthma attack, she literally can't Breathe a Word. Best use of a title ever!

I liked how things worked out in the end. Not everyone can be saved from their demons, but maybe one person can help. And you will definitely fall for Creed. He's like a big wall that stands between you and the rest of the world keeping the bad things away as much as he's capable of doing. And he plays the guitar.

Highly recommended for all ages. There is some drug use and reference to sex, but no actual scenes with it or descriptions.
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on January 14, 2012
This book is heart-wrenching and satisfying and frightening all at the same time. It is written from Joy's perspective and the story unfolds as her thoughts do, as she tries different ways of dealing with a horrible, controlling situation. I was furiously angry with the man who caused the problems in the first place: Asher, with his obsession for crows and his fascination for their hierarchy. He experiments with controlling an young girl and it's sickening.

I was heartbroken over the damage he inflicted on so many levels, but the most painful, I thought, was the sexual. She was drawn to him even as she hated him. He had woken her physically and that awakening was always there, exposed, between her and men around her. Even when she ran, this sensual tension could not go away.

The danger on the streets felt so real. It was so sad how the kids only had their bodies when everything else was stripped away. They lost possessions and shelter and were reduced to using their bodies to survive, and that is a stark reality that is hard to swallow. Horrible.

I loved the way Joy changed and grew. She was completely credible to me and her decisions made sense. I was frustrated with her family, all of them. Her parents didn't want to help or listen, not even at the very end. Her friend, Neeta, saw more, but could only help Joy as much as she would let her.
Creed is amazing and I loved all of Joy's street friends and who she became herself, Triste, to be able to see her situation more clearly and respond more truly. And I was ultimately overjoyed with her choices because she didn't have options.

I mean, this book really tugged at my heart as a Mom. I really wanted to step in and be there for her, point out her non-choices surrounding the Asthma when she seemed to ignore them indefinitely. (Partly because one of my kids rode in an ambulance and was in the ICU for a few days over breathing issues.) Joy was willing to take more risks than I was willing to let her!!

But I think that's exactly how the author planned it out. As Joy took her risks, she turned into a confident person and left the victim behind.

I expected the heart-wrenching when I read this book, I guess, but I did not expect the fast pace it was delivered with. There isn't a lull in the entire book. Only the phone stopped me long enough to grab a snack before finishing it. And I had no intention of reading it all in one day, believe me. I don't know the depth of truth regarding the street kids, personally, but they won't be invisible to me after this book.
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on January 31, 2012
This is the kind of book that hits you in such a way that you NEVER see it coming.

This book was suggested to me, and I begrudgingly put it on my TBR list. With books like Don't Breathe a Word , Poughkeepsie or any other book that is so blantly real I hesitate at. Sometimes they are just a little too much for me.

Times like this... I'm glad I ignored my reluctance and read it anyways...

Joy has lived an extremely sheltered life. Hindered by the effects of having asthma, she feels even more suffocated by her family and her abusive boyfriend, Asher. She makes a huge decision, all because of one comment..

"If you ever need help, you know where to find me."

Taking those words to heart, Joy leaves the shelter of her home, protection of her family, to live on the streets of Seattle. To find Creed, the boy who told her those words....

I was rooting for Joy instantly. By page one I think she had my vote.
She's not my typical, run of them mill Heroine that I usually enjoy. Because in the beginning she's wounded, she's closed in.
Reading the growth of Joy/Triste made it perfect though. I loved watching the transformation. From the beginning you can see that Joy has guts and that she is trying so hard to find herself.
We all know there could have been easier routes to escape Asher.
To her, going out into the streets was the ONLY plausible escape.

She had more gumption than I ever would, to try and survive on the streets. I wouldn't have lasted the first day!
It did make me sad that she was so desperate for liberation. That she found living on the streets, surviving on hardly any food, a better option. It will make your heart ache a little, too!

But aside from Joy. I enjoyed reading about May, Santos, and Creed. They help Joy/Triste, take her underneath their wings to learn how to survive the streets. With each interaction that Joy has between the the three of them, she learns more of why they are living on the streets themselves.

Some great quotes that stuck with me:

"At home, I was powerless. But out here, I would become more powerful than he could possibly imagine."

"They would wrap me gently, keep me in a cage, and watch over me as if my life depended on it. They would suffocate my spirit to save my body, and then hand the keys to Asher, who engraved our vows on a bracelet with a dangling crow."

"You could be a rock star and not even know it. I could discover you."

Even though this book has so much grit to it, there is a underlining of hope. That somehow Joy, along with the rest of her street family can survive and find a better life.

This book deserved a happy ending. Some books have the ends wrapped up so quickly, your quickly scratching the back of you head, wondering exactly what happened. But when you read through this book, and watch the struggles that all of them go through you're practically PLEADING for everything that is good to shine their way.
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on February 22, 2012
Don't Breath A Word is a realistic glimpse into a girls life, a girl who is always being smothered and protected by her family and even friends at times. She feels so smothered that she makes it seem as if she has been kidnapped and she runs away.

Not only does she have asthma, but she fell for a guy who gets very possessive and even blackmails her to get what he wants. So many things make Joy leave, but an easier answer to her problems would have been to tell her family what was happening, right? Well Joy doesn't see it that way. Joy feels as if she has no other choice other than leave everyone behind and start new, but the only thing is Joy has no idea how hard life is on the streets.

Don't Breath A Word is a fantastic story about love, trust, family and not letting yourself fall under control of someone that is so possessive. I loved reading Joy's journey into really finding her voice and finding out that she can be loved without being smothered. Holly Cupula did a fantastic job weaving a very believable story, one that was so real that I could see Joy walking around the streets and having no where to go. I loved reading every single word of this book.

I also fell in love with its cover! The colors pop and when I first looked at this book I knew I had to have it. I loved how the colors of the cover all revolve around the girl on the cover!
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on February 4, 2012
I read the first 2 sample chapters online and was so hooked I immediately bought it electronically and downloaded it to my phone to read. I didn't want to wait for it to get here if I ordered it and I didn't want to run up the street to the local book store to buy a hard copy. So I did the unthinkable... for me... I read it on my phone. That should tell you how it was able to hook me from the beginning.

I loved this book. I laughed, I cried and found myself pulled into Joy's world. The horror of everything and the happiness in the simple pleasures. The things most people, the Normals, take for granted. Every teen needs to read this book. Every adult, too. It is eye-opening and somehow humanizing and humbling all rolled into one neat little package.
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on February 25, 2016

Joy can’t take it anymore. From her severe asthma and her overprotective parents, to her abusive boyfriend. She needs to get out. And when she meets a homeless boy, she takes the chance and runs away. It’s tough, but she finds friendships with Asher and his group, and they’re handling it.

This is definitely a harsh, realistic look at being homeless. Joy and them are homeless in Seattle, and they have a hard time getting money, finding food and shelter, staying clean. There are pimps and women who are abused and whored out. Stealing stuff is an inevitable, and they have a hard time of that. Asher plays music for money when he can, the other do what they’re able to. And Joy doesn’t really fit.

The homeless part definitely made me look at it differently. Which is good, that it changed my perspective a little. But it also made the ending a little less believable.

I wanted all four of them to have a happy ending, of course. They’d been through terrible stuff, and I wanted them to be okay. But after everything, I had a hard time believing it was that easy for them to come out okay and start working. I’m happy that they did, but still. The way Joy stood up for herself to her ex-boyfriend at the end, though, also seemed too easy.

It took a while for me to feel the chemistry between Joy and Asher, too, but I liked where they were at the end.

There were parts that didn’t quite work for me, but I do think that it was worth reading if for nothing else than the look at being homeless.

[More of my reviews are available on my blog, Geeky Reading, to which there's a link on my profile.]
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on March 18, 2013
Joy is suffocating. She has had enough near death experiences to where her family has become obsessively overprotective of her. Then comes along Asher who seems great at first but then emotionally abuses her which soon leads to physical. All this is wearing Joy down until one day she comes across a boy who offers her an option which she didn't think she had.

Joy fakes her own abduction and pretty much runs away to Seattle where she finds Creed the boy who told her if she needs him he is there. And she meets his street family May and Santos. All the characters were very well written and we learn about each of their hardships and inner battles. Cupala also kept it very realistic as far as the street life goes and what it means to be a runaway. We met all kinds of people from pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, addicts and the list goes on.

My only issue with this book was the ending. For a book so intense the ending wrapped up too quickly and perfectly. I guess I just expected more.

Overall this book took me by surprise it had been sitting on my shelf for months and it's another one of those books where i'm cursing myself out for not picking up sooner. Cupala not only creates a story so gripping about Joy's struggle to find strength in herself to live a life that she wants but she also bring attention to the teen homeless population and all the horrible things they are really dealing with in real life.
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on December 3, 2012
Definitely a great book and one that I recommend buying and reading. Living homeless isn't easy and this book portrays that without harping on it every step of the way. Its grittier towards the end and rounds out into a happy ending for everyone. That doesn't always happen in real life naturally, but I would still recommend reading this novel.
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