Joy Delamere’s asthma has impacted her her entire life. She feels as though she can’t breathe constantly–and it’s not just the fact that her lungs have a tendency to close up. Her boyfriend Asher has exerted total control over her to the point where she’s hurting–physically and emotionally. So Joy makes a drastic decision: she’ll give up her suburban life and attempt to make it on the streets of Seattle. With the help of a homeless boy named Creed, Joy learns the hard way that being homeless is even harder than she’d ever dreamed.
Cupala’s novel tries to combine two stories: an abusive relationship and a coming-of-age love story. While Cupala’s writing is fairly compelling and gripping, the two stories don’t entirely come together, making for an uneven read. However, many readers should be willing to overlook the uneven plotting and enjoy the dark, fast-paced story.
Joy’s narration is authentic and compelling. Her voice is well-developed from the start, and the quick pacing of the novel should hook even reluctant readers. The secondary characters vary in terms of development, but there are a few standouts: Creed is gentle and supportive, while Asher’s characterization paints him as a convincing manipulative abuser.
Both of the relationships Joy has with these boys are meant to serve as foil to one another. While this works for the most part, there’s still the uneasy feeling that Creed’s care of Joy comes from a place of patronizing condescension. Exciting as the story might be, it’s still the boy who has to continually rescue our heroine.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, and some teens will be particularly interested in it because of its accurate portrayal of street life, but the too-tidy ending feels rushed. Even so, this is likely to be a popular title amongst teens.
Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala. Harper Teen: 2012. Library copy. Read for 2012 Cybils Round 1 Panel.