Thursday, December 19, 2013

Breathe (Breathe #1) by Sarah Crossan

I've been struggling with bronchitis so you can see why I was lured to this title in my pile of to-read-for-christmas-break-books. This dystopia story has people paying for air. They showed on the news last year a man selling bottled air in Beijing. People would peel off the aluminum top, tip the can upside down and inhale deeply. That's the thing with dystopia novels, they push societal truths to an extreme in creative and thought-provoking ways. Societies all over the world are ruining the Earth's air. I have been to so many polluted cities. Even here in Taipei, Taiwan where they've "cleaned up the air" I find myself gagging on exhaust fumes daily that are trapped between the concrete buildings. Six million people are crammed between these mountains. How can the air not be polluted? Crossan explores this notion of destroying our earth's air in an action-packed thriller that sometimes suffers from character development but does not suffer in tense action scenes. Not only does she weave an environmental theme throughout the story but she explores the notion of extremist actions where even the "good guys" go too far in their zealousness and the "bad guys" are not one-dimensional.

Most of the population has died because oxygen levels have dropped too low. People now live in domes and must buy air and use portable air tanks to breath. Quinn's dad is a part of the establishment and helps protect society maintaining the status quo of humans purchasing manufactured air to live. Alina wants to be free to live outside the dome and help trees grow back on Earth to help bring oxygen levels up to a level that will sustain life free of air tanks. Bea is an Auxillary or person who must buy air and tries to survive day-to-day buying air that has many restrictions and drawbacks for the average person. The ruling elite take the best for themselves leaving a caste system that has the majority poor, unhappy, and short of air. When the three young adults cross paths, they uncover a plot that shows the ruling elite are not working to improve the environment but are working to maintain their own positions of power. The three unwittingly start a war and in the process learn the cost of being free.

The point of view switches between Bea, Quinn, and Alina. They are written in first person narration and I'm not sure why the author did this because it is awkward, not to mention I'd forget whose head I was in once I set the book down and came back to it hours later. The other flaw with this approach is the characters sound too much alike, especially by the end. Alina tries to be cold, hard and unfeeling so she is easier to distinguish at the beginning and Quinn is a guy so he was usually easy to figure out, but Alina and Bea sound alike by the end especially since Alina has allowed herself to feel emotions. I'm not sure why the author didn't use third person. Maude has a distinct voice but it is uneducated which doesn't make sense for an educated woman with a nursing degree who worked for the Ministry.

The characters change with Bea learning to stand up for herself, Quinn seeing his world and its manipulativeness, and Alina tapping into her humanity. They are too busy trying to stay alive for there to be much romance and depth. The plot sets up for a sequel and doesn't answer many of my questions. I'm hoping Abel will be explained in the next book. I wasn't sure if he was for or against the Resistance. I didn't really buy that Quinn would want to topple his government. He's such a part of the status quo, would he really go that far because he didn't think his parents loved him? His motivation seemed a bit weak to go to the extremes that he does on national TV. Usually in this type of story the character has nothing to lose. They are already on the bottom of the caste system and their life is meaningless. Quinn's is not, so it was harder to buy. The killing of certain people at the end also seemed manipulative of plot elements.  Or perhaps the ending was just too rushed. I'm not sure. Either way, it didn't sit quite right with me.

The theme of extreme behavior even when representing a good cause is shown with the Resistance. While they are justified in their actions, are they justified in treating others who follow the existing government to the point of killing them? Petra seems to represent someone who has lost the point of what the Resistance stands for because she is putting trees above human life. She has lost touch with her humanness to the point that she will kill people to protect her sanctuary. She's no better than the government who kills people who represents the Resistance. When it comes to radicalism, people justify killing and the subplot of Maude explores this theme even again among the three young people who find her. They have not lost touch with their human side and do not cross the line of taking another human life. This exploration of extremist behaviors is ripe for discussion in terms of authoritarian governments and more moderate behaviors of citizens.

Some of my favorite dytopia novels are: The Giver, Brave New World, Shipbreaker, and Hunger Games. In these stories you have a better balance between character development and action. While I enjoyed this novel and found it very entertaining, I think it falls short on character development. It is a quick read. Here's the article on the man who sold fresh air to Chinese people in Beijing. He sold 10 million cans for 80 cents each in 10 days. The truth is stranger than fiction.

3 Smileys

No comments:

Post a Comment