Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Breathe

Breathe

Sarah Crossen
Fiction
For ages 13 and up
HarperCollins, 2012   ISBN: 978-0062118691

A few generations ago life on Earth changed radically. The human population had grown so much that people started cutting down all the trees so that they could use as much land as possible for farming so that people could be fed. It was thought that the world’s oceans would create enough oxygen, but toxic agricultural runoff killed the oceans, and by the time Bea’s grandparents were young, millions of people were dying due to a lack of oxygen.

A select few were chosen to enter self-contained living environments called pods, which were filled with oxygen that Breathe, a multinational company, was able to produce using technology that they had developed. Bea’s grandparents were two of the few who were chosen to enter a pod. They all thought that the pods would be a temporary fix until the Earth’s trees grew back, but many years have passed and Bea and her parents are still completely dependent on the pod where they live.

Life in Bea’s pod is far from perfect. She and her parents are auxiliaries, which means that their oxygen consumption is closely monitored and rationed. Bea’s parents both work incredibly hard just so that they can afford the oxygen that their daughter uses. Bea is not allowed to run or to do anything that might increase her oxygen consumption, and unless she gets accepted into the Leadership Program her situation, and that of her parents, will not change.

Bea has been working hard to get accepted into the program but even though she clearly beats her friend Quinn in the Breathe Leadership Program debate exam, she is rejected and he is accepted. Quinn is a Premium whose father is a senior director at Breathe, and he therefore has a charmed life. He is given oxygen tanks so that he can run and exercise, his parents are able to have as many children as they want, and Quinn never has to worry about how much oxygen he uses. Quinn cares deeply about Bea and when he hears that he has passed the exam and not her, he gets very angry. The system in the pod is stacked against his friend and there is nothing he can do about it.

Wanting to give Bea a treat, Quinn invites her to go camping with him. They are waiting to leave the pod, to enter the Outlands, when a pretty girl called Alina asks for Quinn’s help. She needs to get out of the pod and without his assistance she will not be able to do so. Completely taken by Alina’s beauty, Quinn pulls every string that he can and he manages to get Alina what she needs so that she can leave the pod. What he and Bea don’t know at first, is that Alina is a member of a resistance group. She is carrying some illegally obtained tree clippings and the authorities are after her.

Alina insists on going her own way as soon as they leave the pod but Quinn decides to follow her. The Outlands are home to drifters, dangerous and desperate people who have been kicked out of the pod and who do their best to survive by dragging around heavy solar powered oxygen generating machines wherever they go. Alina does indeed encounter one of these people and thanks to Quinn and Bea she is not badly injured by the strange old woman who accosts her.

Bea, Quinn and Alina, along with the old drifter lady, who is called Maude, set off for the Grove, the place where the resistance fighters have set up their headquarters. They are separated when tanks attack them, but they all manage to survive. While they make their way to The Grove, Bea finds out the truth about what the authorities are doing. They are destroying any trees that try to grow in the Outlands. They are making sure that the people living in the pod will never be able to survive outside, by tampering with their oxygen supply and their bodies. In short, they are sabotaging any efforts that the people make to gain their freedom. Bea is shocked beyond belief when she hears this news and decides that she has to do what she can to help the Resistance fight back against Breathe and the company’s supporters.

This gripping and often deeply disturbing story explores what could happen on Earth if we humans are foolish enough to destroy the planet’s trees. We meet young people from different walks of life whose stories overlap in interesting ways. The narrative alternates between the voices of Alina, Bea, and Quinn, and the tension between them is almost palpable.

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