breath apart audio coverStory Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.25 stars

Narrator: Iggy Toma
Length: 7 hours, 37 minutes

Audiobook Buy Links: Amazon/Audible | iBooks
Book Buy Links: Amazon | iBooks

Josh Daly and Brennan Fischer had a moment, a brief stolen minute in summer camp where they met one another’s eyes and touched each other’s hands far away from the watchful gaze of counselors and campers. It was a moment neither of them have been able to forget. Ever since that day, Brennan has harbored a shy, shameful crush on Josh. It’s a secret he barely lets himself know, let alone anyone else. Growing up in the foster system, Brennan was adopted by the Fischer’s on his sixteenth birthday and, while he lives with them, is loved by them, and accepted by them, there’s still a part of him waiting for them to change their minds. Brennan knows love is conditional, and he will never do anything to risk the most important people in his world turning their backs on him.

But that was before Josh comes back for the summer. Josh the golden boy, with baseball and good grades, church and church group. Josh with his easy smile and confident manner. Josh who is a year older than Brennan and has been away at college, making new friends and a new life for himself. Brennan can’t keep his eyes off of Josh, can’t keep his heart from beating a little faster, or keep the butterflies at bay, and when Josh looks at him, smiles at him and asks Brennan to trust him, Brennan can’t help but say yes.

Before I get into the review, I would like to note that there is the mention of a miscarriage suffered by Brennan’s mother early in the book. It’s something she and her family have to accept and heal from, and for some readers, this may be a sensitive matter. I assure you, it is not the focus of the book, and it is neither glossed over nor glorified for dramatic purposes. And while this book does have a focus on religion and the harm that hateful people can do in the name of their religion, it in no way speaks ill of any faith, nor does it attack, insult, or castigate those whose religious views are not welcoming to members of the LGBQTIA+ community. Overall this book, which falls somewhere between YA and New Adult, is simply a love story between two young men.

Brennan knows he’s gay, though he couldn’t say for certain where, when, or how he discovered it. Having been in the foster system before his adoption into his family, Brennan is still dealing with the insecurities and stressors from those chaotic days of being shuffled around after his mother’s death. He has issues with food and self image, and, of course, he doubts the permanence and strength of the love his parents have for him. His mother just lost a baby, and there’s still a part of him that obsesses over that. Not just because it was traumatic and painful for the family, and not just because it’s affecting both his mother and his parents marriage as they are still grieving, but because there can’t help but be that small question in the back of his head. What would have happened if the baby had lived?

Now that Brennan’s getting ready to graduate and head on to college, how will his parents feel? Will they be glad to see him gone? Will they feel the same way about him when he’s not there? These are foolish thoughts and he knows it. He knows they love him. But he’s also a young man dealing with the weight of hiding who he is from his family. His mother has a brother she doesn’t talk to — hasn’t in years — and Brennan doesn’t know why. Is it because her brother is gay? If she finds out Brennan’s gay, will she kick him out? Will she still love him? When he’s with Josh, though, all these doubts, all these fears and dark thoughts are brushed away like shadows by sunlight, because when Brennan’s with Josh, he’s too in love to think about anything beyond the two of them.

Josh was raised in a heavily religious house and is attending a religious college. His faith is a cornerstone of his life and yet … his faith is at odds with who he is. Josh tries to be good, tries to be both a good man and a good Christian, and just as he’s reconciling those things he manages to fall in love with the boy he met at summer camp. Brennan stares at him as if he hung the stars, listens to him talk with attentive care, wants to know how he’s feeling, how he’s doing, and what can be done to make him happy. Just as Josh wants to make Brennan happy. Together they have their first kiss and their first handjob. Together they have their first honest-to-god love, and it’s sweet and soft and perfect.

And later, when — as we know will happen — the two are discovered, their grief and loss are palpable. We see Josh through Brennan’s eyes and through his diary entries, and watching Josh go from certain of himself and confident in what he knows to be right change as he grows smaller, more bitter and confused while he struggles to bear up under the weight of his father and church … it hurts.

Josh does as anyone might do when faced with the all or nothing choice to be yourself and lose everything, or to conform and retreat back into the closet. To accept blame and seek to ‘fix’ himself, as though he were a problem. As though who he is is something broken. Josh accepts his father’s demands. He goes to religious counseling. He ducks his head and obeys. He doesn’t want to lose his brother, his mother, his life. He can’t pay for college on his own, can’t survive without his parents, and it’s a situation people are asked to put themselves in, asked to endure almost every day.

Brennan, through all this, doesn’t push. He doesn’t put pressure on Josh, he doesn’t ask or demand or make a grand display. Instead, he visits the Dairy Whip, where Josh works, parking outside a window and waits until Josh sees him, making certain that Josh knows he’s not alone, that Brennan is there and will always be there. There is only love, support, concern, and acceptance of Josh’s choices, whatever they may be.

This is more a character study than an adventure story, with little plot and a great deal of teenage angst as Brennan and Josh think about one another in every single chapter.  When the moment of discovery comes, when the revelations and confessions make their appearance, it’s handled with the usual matter-of-factness on one side and the fist shaking anger on the other. It’s a slow read, taking it’s time, and for some people the leisurely pace and lack of anything really happening may not be to their taste, but here, I didn’t mind it. In the end, this book is what it is, a love story between two young men taking place in stolen moments over a summer.

I listened to the audio version by Iggy Toma, who does an great job at conveying the emotions of angry, confused, and hurt young men. So much of the story is a look at Brennan’s personal growth, and Toma managed to give his voice the strength and character it needed to carry the weight story. Josh’s voice came across more clearly in his journal entries than in his dialogue, and while the voices for the two characters did come across as fairly similar, I was never left in doubt of who was who. I do recommend the audio version of this book if you want to simply lie back and listen to a sweet, no-pressure story with a charming main character.

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