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Breathless Hardcover – August 18, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“*Starred Review* Says 15-year-old Katie, "The only thing I really love is swimming. Sometimes I feel like I don't really exist outside of the water." When her parents send her to boarding school after her schizophrenic brother, Will, attempts suicide, Katie loves the escape that Woodsdale offers from her family: institutionalized and increasingly violent Will; her emotionally distant dad; and her alcoholic mom. She also loves the intensity of the school's swim team, with its motto that "practice isn't over until someone pukes," and she begins a tender relationship with a gorgeous fellow swimmer, Drew, a devout Christian who, unlike most of their classmates, is still a virgin. After a misunderstanding leads to a lie, Katie tells her new friends that Will is dead. Only Katie's roommate, Mazzie, knows the truth, and that shared secret begins the deep friendship at the core of this heartbreaking debut. Stretched over three years, the episodic novel, narrated in Katie's raw voice, meanders occasionally in its focus. But Warman's achingly realistic scenes and characters transcend cliché, and with rare, refreshing honesty and flashes of wry humor, she writes about the intimacy of boarding school, the anguish of family illness, finding a sense of self in sports and in life, and the small, mysterious, imperfect moments that add up to love in all its forms. ” ―Booklist, starred review

*Starred Review* Though there's plenty of weight in the plot, this isn't a book about events so much as human dynamics, and characterization is vivid and exquisite. Katie is achingly real, and her relationship with her ferocious, guarded, and superbly faithful roommate, Mazzie, is one of the most tender and intimate platonic friendships in YA lit….Since readers make the journey with Katie, they'll sympathize with her choices and failures, and they'll be glad to see, in the closing epilogue from ten years on, that she learns to find her own stability while remaining connected to Will. Along the way to that hard-fought end, they'll find the boarding-school experience enviable, the family situation poignant, and Katie a protagonist they'll understand, support, and forgive.” ―The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review

“*Starred Review* Katie, 15, is most herself when she is in the water, swimming faster and better all the time. Things were so much simpler when the Kitrells were poor–her family seemed closer. Now that they are financially comfortable, their relationships have deteriorated. Katie's parents become more and more wrapped up in one another, and Katie feels excluded. She is still close to her older brother, Will, who is schizophrenic, and when his behavior becomes more erratic and extreme, she becomes concerned and frightened. Their father, now successful in his psychiatric practice, seems unable to maintain any warm relationships with his children, and sends Katie away to boarding school. There she is accepted by the most popular girls and attracts the attention of gorgeous Drew, captain of the swim team. Katie is also intrigued by her strangely withdrawn roommate and works on building her trust. Eventually, too much drinking, smoking, and worrying about her family take their toll on her swimming performance. When her brother's illness spirals out of control again, Katie faces serious personal losses and challenges that have no simple solutions. Warman treats Will's schizophrenia with stark honesty as seen through his sister's eyes. Similar to Jessica Lee Anderson's Border Crossing (Milkweed, 2009), this novel provides an important look at an extremely difficult illness and its effects on a family. ” ―School Library Journal, starred review

About the Author

Jessica Warman is the author of Breathless, Where the Truth Lies, and Between, which have received six starred reviews among them. Between was published in a total of twelve countries around the world. Jessica has an MA in creative writing and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Childrens (August 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802798497
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802798497
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,377,194 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J.Prather TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
So, Breathless is a good read. I found it to be a compelling look at an extemely dysfunctional family that was well written and well thought out. I found myself staying up late to see what happened to Katie- she is a character that was easy to care about. Her efforts to break away from her family, most notably her brother, had the ring of truthfulness to them that made her character very believable.

This is not a light hearted story about boarding school and a girl who gets caught up in a circle of lies or "omissions". There's alot of heartache here. I found this book to be incredibly depressing. Katie's mother is a drunk, her father is mostly absent from her life, her brother is insane and she gets shipped off to boarding school where she attempts to carve a life for herself among people that she considers "friends" but admits that she doesn't like very much. There's lots of drug use, underage drinking and sexual situations in this book. For me, all the alcohol overwhelms the story at some points. Some of her friends at school are not believable at all; Estella is really over the top and Drew comes across as a caricature at times.

This is a well written book, but not one I'm prone to recommend just because it is so overwhelmingly bleak.
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Format: Hardcover
Katie Kitrell is your average fifteen-year-old girl--with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Nothing is about her, or for her. She lives to keep safe (and stay loyal to) her older brother, whose (in)sanity challenges him at every turn and threatens the safety of the entire family. In addition, she is the product of, in Warman's words, "an apparition" of a father and a "semiconscious" mother. However, Katie is talented in the water. She's bound to swim places. When her parents gift her with a position at a private boarding school, which isn't really given in her best interests, as much as for a half-solution to family's biggest problem, she grasps at a chance to live a better life.

Filled with poignant, real-life situations, and characters that practically breathe, Warman's debut novel will grasp you by the heart and squeeze you so tightly, you won't be free of it, even after you read the last word. This is an amazing study of teen years, hitting on all pertinent problems in teenaged society...and the world. While BREATHLESS is marketed toward the latter spectrum of young adult readers, this is mainstream at its best. Men and women of all ages, and teens of both genders, will identify with this profound masterpiece. I will be pre-ordering Warman's next book (reportedly entitled NOBODY'S BABIES,) and can hardly wait for its release.

What an enthralling read, Ms. Warman!
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Format: Paperback
First off, I love this cover! I don't know what it is about them, but I love pictures taken under water - they're creepy and beautiful at the same time. However, I was somewhat disappointed by the actual book.

What carries Breathless, in my opinion, is the writing. Jessica Warman's prose is beautiful, lush; insightful without being melodramatic.

The rest of the novel, however, did not live up to the writing. I didn't really like the characters. While I felt for Katie during her time at home and her problems with her family, she really annoyed me when she's at boarding school. The way she treats other people at school doesn't fit to the way she acts at home. I was annoyed by how conceited she is, thinking she'll get into Yale for sure and always saying she's the fastest swimmer. I also disliked how much Katie smoked and drank without those topics ever really being addressed.

While I liked that the author gave all of the secondary characters unique personalities, I didn't really get their relationships with Katie. I didn't get why Estella, the most popular girl at school, would befriend Katie when she doesn't even get along that well with her most of the time. Drew's relationship with Katie is boring, but I can't really criticize that, since that's the way it's supposed to be. Mazzie is probably my favorite character. She's complex and dynamic, and I like that she had her own problems but was still there for Katie. How close the two are, though, is accentuated a little too much to be realistic.

I'm split on what to say about the family-storyline. It was interesting for me to read about Will's schizophrenia and his episodes seem realistic, but I don't know anything about that kind of thing so I can't really judge that.
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Format: Hardcover
While I thought it was impossible that I would enjoy young adult fiction, it ends up that I couldn't put this book down. Jessica Warman's first novel took me back to what it was like to be a teenager, when all was felt with such intensity. The story is gripping and the prose refreshing. You'll learn to love these characters and find a bit of yourself in each of them - Katie, Mazzie, Will, Drew. Warman covers topics that we all know are out there, but that we aren't always comfortable talking about. This book could possibly help facilitate some tough conversations between parents and their teens. But most of all, it's so much fun to read!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Grade: B

Champion swimmer Katie is sent to boarding school after her older brother's latest schizophrenic episode. For the first time she's popular and has a boyfriend, Drew, though she's closest to roommate Mazzie.

Katie first person narration seemed authentic and I could read for hours at a time without a break. I like Jessica Warman's writing style. She mixes great dialogue, description and plot and BREATHLESS has great voice.

Katie was perfectly imperfect, with a good heart but not always the best judgment. She's kind, most of the time, and honest some of the time. I loved her complicated relationship with her brother as his mental health deteriorates. I adored Mazzie, my favorite character, secretive, sardonic and and loyal. The only character I truly loathed was Drew, a holy roller who thought Katie and Mazzie were going to hell for being agnostic and Buddhist respectively. He was subtly possessive and controlling, but that was never addressed. On the surface he treated Katie quite well. I kept hoping she'd kick him to the curb or he'd fall in love with another holy roller.

The entire book alluded to Mazzie's mother dying under either traumatic or mysterious circumstances, and I didn't like the way that was resolved. Aside from that, the book had closure and an epilogue, though they were somewhat weak.

An added bonus, there is some crossover of characters between BREATHLESS and Warman's WHERE THE TRUTH LIES, which takes place in another boarding school.

Themes: boarding school, mental illness, friendship, dating, partying, swimming, family

A fun read, but I doubt a memorable one.
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