Review by Caroline Hodges
Pages - 373
Published by Bloomsbury in October 2012
I squeeze Abel’s hand and he looks at me. ‘Now?’ he asks. He puts his other hand into his pocket.
‘No, no. Not yet,’ I whisper. Several cameras are trained right at us and there’s a steward only metres away. I pull Abel close and nuzzle his neck. We aren’t a couple but posing as one makes us less conspicuous.
When oxygen levels plunge in a treeless world, a state lottery decides which lucky few will live inside the Pod. Everyone else will slowly suffocate. Years after the Switch, life inside the Pod has moved on. A poor Auxiliary class cannot afford the oxygen tax which supplies extra air for running, dancing and sports. The rich Premiums, by contrast, are healthy and strong. Anyone who opposes the regime is labelled a terrorist and ejected from the Pod to die. Sixteen-year-old Alina is part of the secret resistance, but when a mission goes wrong she is forced to escape from the Pod. With only two days of oxygen in her tank, she too faces the terrifying prospect of death by suffocation. Her only hope is to find the mythical Grove, a small enclave of trees protected by a hardcore band of rebels. Does it even exist, and if so, what or who are they protecting the trees from?
A few weeks before reading Breathe, someone on Twitter tweeted a joke image of ‘iOxygen,’ a joke that one day Apple would own oxygen as well as most of the gadget market. I had a giggle then didn’t think anything more of it.
But then I started reading Breathe and suddenly the idea became all too real. This dystopian novel takes place in the not too distant future, where climate change mixed with human attempts to defeat it has actually resulted in the death of all trees and plants. The bottom line? No air to breathe at all in the natural atmosphere.
Some of the descriptions of what happened in the initial aftermath of the air running out are chilling – a lottery was run and a select few chosen to live in the Pod, a city within a giant glass bubble run by Breathe, the company that has managed to manufacture oxygen. But for the unlucky majority, they were left to die, slowly suffocating.
The book is set many years after this and revolves around the teenage descendants of those living under Breathe. Yet life is not easy. Divisions in social class have only gotten worse, with those able to afford ample oxygen able to run and breathe as deeply as they like. Whilst those that can’t afford it are subject to restrictions on walking speed let alone running. Heck even having sex is considered an activity too oxygen intensive for most!
But as there always is in these novels, a resistance is rising. Out in the wasteland of the old world people are learning to survive on the low oxygen levels, and they are sharing the skill with others.
There were parts that impressed me about Breathe but then there were some really odd things that just ruined the believability of the whole situation.
The idea of oxygen as a commodity rather than what we know as perhaps the only truly free resource available to us is an excellent concept and the link to climate change as a way in which this resource was lost and monopolised is ingenious and compelling. But then there is the resistance, lead by basically a tree-hugging hippy who not only takes advice from a nine year old but suddenly just lets everything she has built up crumble to pieces, leaving the responsibility to the teenage main characters. Crossan starts out portraying her as a strong, no-nonsense woman, but ultimately she becomes distinctly unlikeable and pathetic. It just doesn’t make sense. I also felt that whilst the first two thirds of the novel had a nice pace to them and I was really very much enjoying the novel, the end was too rushed and chaotic.
The main characters are however engaging although perhaps slightly clichéd. There’s Bea, the quiet, clever one, struggling in a poor, oxygen-starved family, Quinn the womanising cocky one from the rich family and Alina who slams into their world and turns their lives onto the path of the resistance.
There is also a host of supporting characters with some very nice moments; I would particularly like to see more from Alina’s cousin Silas.
All in all a great twist on a dystopian novel with a worryingly plausible context.