Author: Katie McGarry
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: January 22, 2019
Copy: Purchased personal copy
I have been a huge fan of Katie McGarry since the beginning, I have read and loved all her work, a few I have pre-ordered electronic copies of because they promised extra content even though I already had a print copy on my review pile.
Only A Breath Apart was released almost 12 months ago and I pre-ordered a copy but it was such a busy year for me that it was left sitting on my desk, taunting me and calling me. Until the day I decided that you know what, I’m in control of my own reading these days and it’s time. The new one is out in a couple of weeks and I can’t have them both taunting me from the shelf.
I devoured this book, I ignored the housework and all my other chores and read. I did try to get other things done. I would finish a chapter and close the book, then promptly pick it straight back up. Part of the reason I have such trouble actually closing a Katie McGarry novel is the dual perspective alternate chapter storytelling method.
McGarry often writes of damaged teens and doesn’t shy away from the tough topics but, for me, this one is more raw and not more real but more focused on the damage. It touched nerves and it resonated; this is a powerful story with valuable lessons and some very tough chapters to read.
A highlight of McGarry’s writing for me is always her characters, they always feel so real to me and they draw me in, they make me invest myself in their story. It’s not just the lead couple that capture me either, it’s also some of their circles. Not all of the characters are explored in as much depth as I would like but we get to know them well enough for me to be intrigued to know them better.
The story begins with a six year old Jesse and gives us a very small insight into his young life. We see a little of what his life was like but this peek, I think, is more about giving us a look at his early friendship with Scarlett; the girl who lived directly across the street and was his best friend, his only friend, through his childhood.
We also meet a seven year old Scarlett for a little insight into her childhood and the bond she shares with Jesse.
Skip ahead 10 years and we next see the pair at the funeral of Jesse’s Grandmother, and the intervening years have changed them both almost to the point that they’re unrecognisable.
I hesitate to call Only A Breath Apart a good girl falls for bad boy story, and in this instance the other side of the tracks is directly across the road. I think this one is more about the façade of the perfect family and the bad reputation associated with Jesse’s surname, it twists those stereotypes in a way that tore at my heartstrings to be honest.
The loss of Jesse’s Gran rips him up, she’s all that he feels he has in this world. The friendship he once shared with Scarlett is in tatters and his family name tarred him with an undesirable brush from the start. His family has lived in the same spot for generations, and their bad rep has been around almost as long; as has the family curse.
Jesse feels a strong connection to his family’s land and his plans have always revolved around the farm, never has he considered the idea of living anywhere else. The loss of his Gran brings another blow when he learns that the farm may be sold, he has until he turns eighteen to convince a tribunal of three that he can handle the responsibility, and they’re a tough crowd that won’t vote for him easily.
Scarlett is an enigmatic character who has spent three years perfecting the façade she presents to the world. She is the poster child of calm and proper, she has found a group of friends but none of them can penetrate the walls she has built around her emotions and none of them can ever know the secrets that she hides.
Jesse and Scarlett both have a rough year ahead of them, and have had their share of rough in the lead up. To move forward they have to find a way back to the friendship they once shared and Scarlett still doesn’t understand what happened to it.
Only A Breath Apart explores one big directional change for McGarry and that is by exploring a little of the paranormal for the first time. Goodreads reviewers have commented on a magical element but I wouldn’t call it magical or fantasy, it’s an element of the paranormal for sure but I don’t equate spirituality and psychic ability with magic.
One of the secondary characters is Glory, a cousin of Jesse’s. She has a home of her own on the farm and she has psychic abilities which she makes a living from. Many don’t believe in her gifts, Jesse included, but there’s no denying that she knows things that aren’t easy to discover.
Glory is another character that I quite liked, she was confident in her skin, and her abilities, and able to get her message across even in the face of stark disbelief. She was invested in the outcome for both Jesse and Scarlett and she helped them by showing them the best way to help themselves, and by putting them in the same space so that they could work on repairing their friendship.
We see a bit more of Jesse’s friends than we do Scarlett’s and I was left wanting more of them. Lucky for me there’s more coming very soon with one of them the leading lady in the next book – YAY! I think there is a lot more to these characters than we saw in this book and I would be interested to learn more of their stories.
I can feel that I’m a bit rambly (sorry about that) but I am very aware of how quickly this could get spoiler-y and I don’t’ want that.
Jesse and Scarlett have more in common than they think, more than just that they don’t let anyone in. Jesse has a group of friends that he spends a lot of time with and V describes them the best when she says: “It’s not every day when people who are lost find a way to be lost together.”McGarry, Katie. Only a Breath Apart (p. 105). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.
When talking to Scarlett V also says: “He calls you Tink and that book you’re holding is Peter Pan.”McGarry, Katie. Only a Breath Apart (p. 194). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.
I have no idea what that has to do with anything.
“Then to put it in those terms, if you’re Tink, and he’s Peter Pan, then Nazareth, Leo and I are the Lost Boys. What do those characters have in common?”
Not a clue. “What?”
“They felt abandoned at home, not wanted, that is until Peter Pan took them in and gave them a place to belong. Jesse is the ultimate Island of Misfit Toys. As in ‘all who enter here have been damaged.’ Even though you live in that big fancy house, I don’t believe you’re immune to broken. If you found your way here, then something or someone along the way has shattered you and that scares me. “All of us are cracked, but Jesse takes damaged to another level.
These descriptions make me want to get to know them better.
Jesse is damaged, and he knows it, but there are two things that help him when he feels the most broken and they are being connected to his land, and being connected to Scarlett.
Early on I had theories about why Jesse walked away from Scarlett and it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that we discovered his reasons. I hadn’t even considered the first reason that he gave her but as the two learned to trust one another again and the whole reason came out, I wasn’t too far off really.
The psychic element to the story is not going to be something that’s for everyone but I don’t think it detracts from the story at all. For me it actually added to the story because a part of that whole story arc is palmistry and Glory explains to Scarlett that the future is never set in stone, there are always choices and your destiny will play out depending on your choices and not anything that’s been preordained. You can change your future. That also plays into the whole family curse and I love how Glory puts that back on Jesse because he believes in the family curse but he can’t believe in Glory having psychic abilities.
Only A Breath Apart is a story of growth and development, a story of building the courage to make the changes that you need to see in your life. Scarlett feels trapped and she wants out but has never been able to see how to make that happen. Slowly, through the unfolding of the story she finds the strength and the courage she needs to say enough. To break the chains of guilt and recognise where her responsibility for the dynamics in her family end.
There is no shortage of dysfunctional family dynamics and I felt so strongly for these characters, their situations and their pain. I wanted to see them succeed and I wanted to see them catch a break. I wanted to see them break free from the voices that silenced them.
Only A Breath Apart deals with forgiveness, courage, abuse and friendship in all it’s forms. It can be graphic and there are scenes that are hard to read but I don’t think any of them were gratuitous. Only A Breath Apart has McGarry’s trademark style but it is a lot darker than her previous works. I really enjoyed it, even in all it’s darkness, and I actually have quite a few bookmarks throughout the book marking quotable pages and that’s not something I usually do, but I’m not going to put any more quotes in the review because it’s become quite wordy already and my quotable pages are spoilerific.
I would definitely recommend this as a memorable read, and one with important lessons to take from. I can’t wait for her latest release which comes out next week and I guarantee that it won’t take as long for me to pick that one up.