Huston Piner has released a third novel in his Seasons of Chadham High series, The Breaths We Take. The story follows the junior year of Ben Carpenter and his three closest friends. We watch his year unfold as his grandfather comes to live with the family, matchmaking backfires in a huge way, and his best friend Ted turns out not to be able to deal with Ben’s sexuality when it includes Ben dating his brother. We also see the travails of high school in all its glory, which includes one of their own struggling with underage drinking and nearly destroying themselves in the process.
But despite all the drama and worry that surrounds Ben, he also discovers an inner strength he never knew existed and he falls in love for the very first time. From a first kiss to his first heartache, Ben grows and morphs into a man who finds the courage to be himself, even when it would be so much easier to hide.
I really wanted to love this novel. Having enjoyed the previous two in the series, I was very disappointed when I realized that not only were these characters stilted and acting way too mature for their age, but that the storyline had an almost sterile feel to it, as if instead of experiencing things with Ben and company, we were mere spectators getting updates on how the young man’s life was going. I should start my review with the fact that I never really engaged with Ben or any of his friends. From the dialogue that felt forced, too adult, and strangely robotic, to the idea that a best friend of many years could suddenly turn into an angry, abusive homophobe, there was always something slightly off about the plot. While I could accept that Ben might be mature for his age, I couldn’t wrap my mind around two teenage boys never having sex or even getting close to having sex, but instead declaring they were in love with each other after “dating” for just two weeks. This, coupled with the interactions with his parents where Ben was told over and over how good a boy he was and how he would have to deal with every emotional crisis on his own because he was seventeen now and had to be a man, meant I really just couldn’t understand the family dynamic either.
After endless chapters of Ben self-analyzing and thinking about how he was potentially going to hurt his boyfriend because Adrian was only fifteen and vulnerable due to just having come out, I was so disenchanted with the entire plot I couldn’t muster any real emotion to care about either boy and just wanted the novel to end. The final chapters were rushed; they glossed over important issues and then immediately resolved into this happy ever after that was just so unbelievable that I had to just shake my head in disbelief. Sadly this was not the writing I was used to reading by this author. I had to really push myself not to put the book down about halfway through—the story just felt so implausible and what little dramatic action unfolded was more annoying than gripping.
While the themes in this novel were valid and important, the delivery was just not engaging or compelling. I have read my fair share of young adult literature and I can honestly say that this was not the best representation of the genre or a good example of the work this author can produce. The Breaths We Take was a real miss for me and, sadly, one I cannot recommend.