Monday, January 2, 2012

"Don't Breathe A Word" ~ Holly Cupala


Don't Breathe a Word

Author: Holly Cupala
Publication: January 3, 2012
By: HarperTeen
 
A MUST READ! 

Another beautifully written book by Holly Cupala that's heartbreaking, gritty and real.  Everyone needs some breathing room in their lives but for Joy, it's become a struggle of life or death.  Each breathe leads her one step closer to suffocation or one step closer to freedom.  Freedom from her parents constant worry, freedom from her boyfriend Asher's control and freedom to figure out who she's meant to be.  If she can manage to escape, to find the homeless boy who offered to help her, maybe she'll be able to breathe again.
 
Joy, a life-long asthma sufferer is literally suffocating in her life. Her family suffocates her with their constant worry about her health - is she taking her medicine?  Does she have her emergency inhalers?  Will the next coughing fit land her in the hospital again, or worse, will this be the time she stops breathing for good?  The medical bills and her parents job situations have taken a toll on everyone in the family.   Then there's her asthma.  If the air isn't clean enough or she strains her lungs too much she literally suffocates. 

Her boyfriend Asher, who is the definition of "control freak", suffocates her with his words, affection and the manipulative way he shows his love to her. (which isn't love at all)  He leaves scars that are both seen and unseen.  Her family either doesn't notice or chooses to not to notice how much of driving force he is in her life. 

Joy's relationship with Asher is unhealthy right from the start.  The pull she feels towards him is a powerful one and she recognizes the control he has over her but she can't seem to make herself leave.  After awhile, he won't let her.  When things go too far one night, farther than just cruel words, or mere threats, Joy realizes the only way to protect herself and her family is to escape.

She's convinced that the best place to go is the streets of Seattle, to disappear into the homeless population there.  She's seen them numerous times, even accompanied her older brother Jesse while he handed out sandwiches but it was the last time with her friends that's etched in her mind.  Asher had been upset with her and after the homeless boy witnessed Asher's harsh treatment, he'd offered Joy his help, saying, "If you ever need help, you know where to find me." (pg 79)  She believes if she can just find that boy again, she'll be okay.

With a drastic new appearance and only a backpack to her name Joy sets off to search for the boy and begin her new life on the street.  When she finally does catch up with "Creed", she discovers that life out there is much harder and more dangerous than she ever imagined.  He lives with two others, Santos and May, in an abandon house with no running water which means no bathroom facilities and no showers.  They sleep on dirty mattresses while scavenging for food in dumpsters or shoplifting it.  Joy meets other people too, many of whom are not as nice and who are willing to do whatever it takes to survive on the streets.  Whether it's selling drugs, prostitution, panhandling or modeling (nude) for local art students these teens will do whatever is necessary to survive.  There are shelters nearby offering clean showers, hot meals and warm beds but many of the kids are afraid of being returned to foster care or in Joy's case, turned into the police if her family or Asher is looking for her. 

Joy learns that looks can be deceiving and even though Santos is a tough kid, he has a kind heart and a love of reading.  He takes Joy under his wing and shows her how to acquire food and gets her asthma medicine when she needs it.  May was the character who broke my heart.  She's a product of the streets with a drug addict Mom who proves the point that many homeless kids feel living on the street is safer than at home.  As a result, she's built a wall around herself using sarcasm as a means of protection. 


Creed is the self appointed protector of the group. (He was also my favorite)  He wasn't able to protect those he loved back home so he did was he thought was best and left.  His dream is to be a musician and he plays on street corners and fills in at gigs when he can.  He's kind and generous and doing what he needs to in order to provide for those around him.  It's obvious that he cares for Joy or Triste, as she goes by on the street but he doesn't allow anything to happen between them.  This frustrates her but he knows what Asher did to her and the last thing she needs is another guy trying to control her.   

Joy and Creed grow closer the longer she spends on the street and she begins to realize that neither one of them can run away from their pasts forever.  Eventually, you have to decide to stop struggling and face your life in order to become the person you were meant to be.  When she does return home, she's forced to face the truth - about her family, Asher and why she left.  She comes through her experience stronger and more aware of who she is and the she also learns what real love is.  Real love isn't cruel or hurtful and it certainly doesn't leave scars.  Real love is joy, pure joy.






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