Breathing Underwater by Julia Green

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Breathing Underwater by Julia Green

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: An engaging story of coming to terms with grief. Freya, the central character, is utterly credible and beautifully shaded. The moments of magic realism are slightly less successful than the rest of the narrative, but it's a wise and lovely read nonetheless. Julia Green was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 0747595461

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Freya's brother Joe died in a boating accident just a year ago. Her family is still in crisis. Her mother is still paralysed by grief and Freya fears that her parents are about to split up. Almost glad to escape the claustrophobic atmosphere at home, Freya returns to the island where her brother died to spend a first summer at her grandparents' house without him. Here, repeating countless childhood summers, Freya can finally confront her own grief and begin to answer some of the questions that have been haunting her. What happened on the day Joe died? Was it really an accident? Is Sam to blame? And her family repair itself? Will they ever be able to move forward, leaving tragedy behind?

I really enjoyed Breathing Underwater. It's tremendously moving. Green draws Freya beautifully; she's young and coltish, just moving into adolescence, and her grief is threatening to overtake her coming of age. She's very self-conscious and easily thrown off balance, but at the same time she clearly understands that neither she nor her parents can carry on as they are. So she spends a summer trying to clear a path for herself and it's very affecting. She finds a boy she likes and a girl to be friends with. But the boy she likes is going out with the friend and the boy who likes her she sees as just a friend. It happens to us all, but for fragile Freya it's all magnified and we watch her as she watches herself, trying to grow up with grace but at the same time trying to find a way to put her brother's death to its natural rest.

The island setting, with its wild nature and heightened sounds and colours, acts as a metaphor for the emotional processes going on and there's a real romantic animism about the book that will appeal greatly to teenage girls - and middle-aged reviewers, but sshh about that. Flashes of magic realism run throughout the book, as Freya sees Joe and he speaks to her - is he real? Is it her mind? Is it his ghost? These were convincing and hugely sympathetic until the climax, which I thought was much less convincing and I'd have preferred a slightly more realistic conclusion. But this is just a nit pick.

Grief is an inevitable part of life, but for teenagers, it's even more difficult than it is for the rest of us. Those on the cusp of new beginnings find it hard to deal with endings. The more this subject is explored in books for young people, the better I like it. As the press sheet says, Breathing Underwater is both thought-provoking and reassuring, and it comes very much recommended by me.

My thanks to the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

Other lovely books about grief include The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, Last Kiss of the Butterfly by Jill Hucklesby, and for younger readers, Eggs by Jerry Spinelli. We also loved To the Edge of the World by Julia Green.

Bookinterviews.jpg Julia Green was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

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Buy Breathing Underwater by Julia Green at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Breathing Underwater by Julia Green at


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