Review of Breathing Underwater

As part of the Xpresso Blog tour

Breathing Underwater
Sarah Allen
(Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR))
Publication date: March 31st 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Middle-Grade

Breathing Underwater is a sparkly, moving middle grade novel from Sarah Allen, and a big-hearted exploration of sisterhood, dreams, and what it means to be there for someone you love.

Olivia is on the road trip of her dreams, with her trusty camera and her big sister Ruth by her side. Three years ago, before their family moved from California to Tennessee, Olivia and Ruth buried a time capsule on their favorite beach. Now, they’re taking an RV back across the country to uncover the memories they left behind. But Ruth’s depression has been getting worse, so Olivia has created a plan to help her remember how life used to be: a makeshift scavenger hunt across the country, like pirates hunting for treasure, taking pictures and making memories along the way.

All she wants is to take the picture that makes her sister smile. But what if things can never go back to how they used to be? What if they never find the treasure they’re seeking? Through all the questions, loving her sister, not changing her, is all Olivia can do—and maybe it’s enough.

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Breathing Underwater by Sarah Allen is a tender middle-grade novel about Ruth, a 16-year-old suffering from depression and her younger sister Olivia who wants nothing more than to connect with Ruth the way they used to. Olivia is hoping that this road trip with their Aunt and Uncle will remind Ruth of all the fun they had three years ago on the road trip that brought them from California to Tennessee. While the surprises that Olivia plans for Ruth don’t work out as she would have liked, Olivia goes with the flow.

Olivia as the narrator spoke and frequently behaved like she was several years younger than 13, which I found distracting but this probably would go unnoticed by most middle grade readers.

The topic of depression is dealt with with great sensitivity and is conveyed in such a way that middle-grade readers should come away with a better understanding. As well, the reader sees that depression wears different faces, comes with different symptoms, and that it’s not one size fits all. This is an important message. Just because someone looks fine on the outside doesn’t mean that they are fine on the inside.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.


Author Bio:

Sarah Allen has been published in The Evansville Review, Allegory, and on WritersDigest. She has an MFA from Brigham Young University. Like Libby in her novel What Stars are Made Of, Allen was born with Turner Syndrome.

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1 reply »

  1. Thanks for hosting today, Sascha! This sounds like a well written, compelling story! Glad you liked it!

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