Thank you to Holiday House for a copy of Breathing Underwater in exchange for an honest review.

Summary

With one word, Tess’s world could be completely undone: Epilepsy.

Tess lives for swimming: the feel of the pool’s rough edge on her toes, the snap of cold water on her skin, and the push of her limbs ever forward. In the water, she’s truly alive. 

Until tragedy strikes. And Tess is left navigating a summer of doctor visits, missed swim practices, a newly distant best friend, and a job stuck behind a counter — not sitting high in the lifeguard chair like every season before.

Instead, her spot goes to new guy Charlie. Although his messy hair and laid-back demeanor catch Tess’s attention, this isn’t really the time. She’s got to focus on getting back in the pool — and on getting back to herself. 

Deeply Personal, With a Lot of “Breath”

To get it out there: What drew me to Abbey Lee Nash’Breathing Underwater is that it’s about epilepsy, a disability I live with. I also happen to be a swimmer. So, I felt an immediate, intimate connection to this novel just by reading the summary. It’s not often that one encounters media that deals with epilepsy, so to read a book about a swimmer with epilepsy felt like striking gold.

Check out our interview with author Abbey Lee Nash!

Better yet, as much as Breathing Underwater is about epilepsy, it’s also not. Like anyone with a disability, Tess is a whole human being. While epilepsy throws specific wrenches into her plans, having a wrench thrown into your plans is something everyone encounters. Besides that, Tess deals with “regular” teenage stuff like friend drama and crushes. It’s really normalizing. 

Breathing Underwater will resonate with many audiences, but it’s written with a teen one in mind. Nash keeps “medicalese” to a minimum, making this novel accessible and engaging for most. The story is more about Tess’s overall life and how she deals with epilepsy than her medical journey, which keeps the tale broad enough to have universal appeal. That’s not to say that people with epilepsy won’t find it specific enough. I certainly did.

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There’s a way that Nash plays with time that resonates with how I experience time. Breathing Underwater “jumps” rather abruptly from one event to another. I feel that — and not just when I “zone” out from seizures. Time doesn’t have the same permanence for me, and I am confident that’s due, in part at least, to the epilepsy. 

Should You Read It?

Yeah. I think everyone should read Breathing Underwater. Not just because it’s a good book (and it is) but because there are so few books featuring characters with epilepsy. It’s a highly under-discussed disability despite its prevalence. I actually think this novel should be assigned reading in classrooms. Librarians: Put it out on display!

Breathing Underwater comes out on March 5, 2024. Please, pick up a copy at your local indie bookstore or library. 📚🏊‍♀️

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