REVIEW: Breathless by Jennifer Niven
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Penguin for accepting my request to read Breathless via NetGalley.
Breathless was my first Jennifer Niven read, and it didn’t live up to the hype. Following a girl called Claude as her parents decide to get divorced and she goes away with her mother for the summer, this novel should have had a very strong emotional impact but left me feeling disappointed.
The main issue that I had with Breathless is that Claude doesn’t sound like a contemporary teenager. She speaks as though she’s older than her years, wiser than her peers, and it’s wholly unrealistic. I’m not a fan of YA novels trying to be literary fiction. It’s one of the reasons I struggle to enjoy John Green’s writing, so if you’re a fan of him I’d definitely recommend you give Jennifer Niven a try.
It also felt as though the book was set in the past, rather than in the 21st Century. Putting your character on a remote island with bad signal to interrupt their communication with their best friend (and to give the love interest an excuse to refuse to hand over his number) is a bit of a lackluster plot device. It would have made more sense if the novel had been set before smartphones were readily available. That would have also gone some way towards explaining why Claude didn’t feel like a modern teenager. If this had been a historical YA I would have enjoyed it more.
Those two issues combined kept throwing me out of the story, and I found it hard to emotionally connect with Breathless. While talking about this book in my January wrap up I couldn’t even remember Claude or Miah’s names, which shows how impactful I found them!
That being said, I did like Miah’s character. He has a bit of a damaged past so he has a lot of layers, and the reason I kept coming back to this book (rather than DNF’ing it, which Sean ended up doing) was because I was interested to learn more about his character. His relationship with Claude developed in an interesting way – it starts off as a summer fling but quickly becomes apparent to both of them that they’re feeling more than just lust for each other – but the ending left me feeling frustrated.
My favourite things about Breathless were the island setting, and the discussion of female sexuality.
The island setting is written in such a gorgeous way. You can tell that Jennifer Niven has either researched this location very deeply or has been on holiday there a few times herself, as the entire island was perfectly crafted. The turtles burying their eggs on the moonlit beach is a scene which is certainly going to stick in my mind for a long time.
Meanwhile, the discussion of female sexuality and pleasure is everything I wanted from YA books when I was younger. Whereas male YA authors never seem ashamed of either featuring masturbation scenes or having male self-pleasure innuendos throughout their stories, female YA authors traditionally seem to shy away from these subjects. Featuring scenes of Claude masturbating, discussions of virginity and how important it should/shouldn’t be (to both society and the individuals concerned) and discussions of female pleasure during intercourse, Breathless is a breath of fresh air in these respects. I particularly loved Claude berating Miah after their first time, telling him that it’s not over when he comes and that he should treat every time like the first time. Seeing characters having these discussions will empower female readers to assert themselves in regards to their pleasure, which is a hugely sex positive inclusion.
All in all, Breathless just wasn’t the book for me. It was too slow and introspective, and Claude came across as a little bit patronising at points so I didn’t like her all that much. However, I will definitely be recommending this book to readers who are looking for sex positive YA.
If you’ve read any of Jennifer Niven’s other novels, please let me know down in the comments which one you would suggest picking up next!
Thank you for reading,