Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Source: Luxury Reading
Parental Warnings: substance abuse; mild sexual content
(Recommended for Ages 14/15+)
Joy Delamere is suffocating... From asthma, which has nearly claimed her life. From her parents, who will do anything to keep that from happening. From delectably dangerous Asher, who is smothering her from the inside out. Joy can take his words - tender words, cruel words - until the night they go too far. Now, Joy will leave everything behind to find the one who has offered his help, a homeless boy called Creed. She will become someone else. She will learn to survive. She will breathe... if only she can get to Creed before it’s too late. Set against the gritty backdrop of Seattle’s streets and a cast of characters with secrets of their own, Holly Cupala’s powerful new novel explores the subtleties of abuse, the meaning of love, and how far a girl will go to discover her own strength.
This is my first book of Holly's, but it came highly recommended and I wanted it to deliver. What I discovered was a book that completely shocked me. It floored me and for a few hours, I was captivated by the powerful story inside of it. I've heard so many people talk about this book and say that it was strong.It is strong and full of grief, anger, hope, and family. It's such a moving story that I didn't come away disappointed. I came away empowered. It was gritty and beautiful and glorious. Holly's words made me feel emotions that I didn't even know existed, as well as be able to use the book for escapism. Her writing paints a vivid picture of Joy's life.Don't Breathe a Word is the gripping story of a teenage runaway. Joy is tired of being suffocated by her parents and her boyfriend. Due to her intense asthma, her parents hover around her, terrified that if they leave her alone, she could have an attack. Asher, her boyfriend, is abusive. Controlling and not above blackmail, he lets his jealousy taint his decisions.When Asher goes too far, Joy can’t take it anymore. She sets a trail in her room, making it look like she was kidnapped, and runs away to Seattle. In Seattle, she looks for a boy who witnessed Asher’s possessive nature. She is counting on the fact that he offered her help if she ever needed any.On the streets, Joy learns to survive. Changing her name to “Triste”, she goes on a hunt for the boy. When they meet, everything falls into place. Joy finally has a family, a way of surviving, freedom. She learns how to find her way on the streets and avoid detection.When her past threatens to catch up with her, Joy has to figure out how to keep her worlds from colliding, and how far she will go to keep things the way they are.Don't Breathe a Word left me breathless. Holly Cupala’s writing was seemingly effortless, beautiful and broken at the same time. She perfectly conveyed the hard life of a runaway, the lingering afteraffects of abuse, and the connections of family in this great novel. By “family”, I mean the ragtag group of runaways that Joy finds herself tethered to. Each is different, ran away for a different reason, and does their part to contribute to the group. As they take her under their wing, Joy discovers both the good and the bad of the streets.Don't Breathe a Word was the perfect combination of humor, raw emotions and romance. Cupala’s definitely knows how to play with the readers’ heartstrings and reluctant, as well as seasoned YA readers, are likely to love this book.Joy herself was incredible. Joy changed throughout the book and is a completely different person at the end of the book than she is at the beginning. At the beginning of the book, she is incredibly naive and trusting of people, but Asher has made her have edges and she is sharper. She changes from her experiences and what she thinks her future will be like. She almost steels herself for it.She's been stifled her entire life. Literally, she can't breathe, but she also can't breathe in the atmosphere that her setting puts her in. The constant pressure and watchful eyes of her family doesn't help either. She is fragile when she ventures outside with only a vague sense of the world. It's only when she runs away that she sees the world for how it truly is.One of the things that truly struck me about this book was how much teens hide things from their parents. Joy's parents were a bit blind about everything that their daughter was going through - the abuse too, but mostly her other emotional struggles. She felt more suffocated under their eyes than she did without them. Plus, they were looking at her, but they didn't really see her. It was moving.Joy was the type of person who needs to break her shell before she can start to build a defense against things. She had to get past fears before she could start to protect herself against them. I actually understand why she ran away. Normally in books, not as bad things are happening as the protagonist thinks, but Joy was in trouble.It truly floored me how you never know if a person is suffering. Joy presented this image of herself to the world and her family that said that she was okay. Nobody knew how deep anything affected her, and that was what was wrong. She couldn't tell anybody either. Nobody understood how things had worked out and would try to protect her even more. They couldn't protect her from Asher. They couldn't protect her from herself. What could they protect her from? She hid everything because she was falling apart on the inside and nobody could fix her.Her relationship with Asher started out sweet and then took a wrong turn. He became possessive and controlling, jealous of what she did and who she was with. He hurt her, emotionally and physically, and she needed to get away. The ghosts of her relationship with him haunted her, and so she needed to get away.When she heads to Seattle, it's mostly on a whim of a thought, and as she gets there, she learns more. More about herself and the world that she lives in. Seattle was almost like her Wonderland, and she was Alice. Seattle was filled with beautiful, gritty, and wonderful things that she discovered but she was changed by the experience.It's then that she turns into Triste. Triste is a strong person, one who has overcome much in her past. Joy changes her name to Triste because she's choosing a new life, and with a new life comes a new name. She needs to reinvent herself and heal from the wounds that have been gouging themselves in her. Triste is Joy reborn, a phoenix from the ashes of her former life.And as much as it's a bit of a laughable statement, this book was actually very educational about being a runaway. When Joy finds her own family of ragtag runaways and homeless teens, they teach her how to make her way in the world with them. They teach her essentially how to survive. She learns all the skills of living on the streets.As strange as it also sounds to say this, all these homeless people were a community. If they didn't have a family, or couldn't rely on them, the people who surrounded them were their family. They had to take the world on their shoulders and make hard decisions to make the best decisions for themselves. Although each person on the streets was really looking out for themselves, when they had a family, they put them before their own selves. Loyalty was very important to them when they couldn't trust anybody else.The writing shone. It was gritty, powerful, but also very enlightening and entertaining. Holly Cupala has this voice that speaks to your past experiences and makes you find something in each one of her words that speaks to you. It was tense and emotional and absolutely lovely to read. She has one of those writing voices that takes your breath away from the first page.While there are a lot of books about teens who are struggling with their lives, there aren't a lot about the kids who choose to do something about it. This was one of those books. It's very attention-grabbing but not flashy. It was subtle and whispered to you about everything.It is a bit on the darker side of contemporary, but it isn't a downer. It doesn't make you depressed and this isn't a book that will put you in a hopeless mood for the rest of the day. It does have darker components to it, but it's balanced by the promise of family and life after Asher and finding a new future. Joy chooses her own future by choosing this life.Another thing I actually enjoyed about this book was that the protagonist had asthma. I have asthma myself, and it's interesting to read about somebody more affected by it than I am. It's one of the things that has kept her stifled for so long, but it's not so much the condition as it is her environment. Either way, it was an interesting detail that caught my attention early in the book.Asher seemed like the perfect boy at first. She and him met innocently, but as the chapters talking about him went on, we saw what lurked behind his facade. The novel is presented in alternating chapters of Joy's past and her present. The present is all about her trying to figure out her future and escape the things that threaten to bring her down.The character development for one was seamless. By this, I mean not only Joy, but the rest of her family.Creed was understanding and thoughtful throughout the entire book. He was the rock of their ragtag family, and fought to keep them together. He knew an unfortunate amount about the world they were up against and did his hardest to protect them. May was painful to read. She was angry and dark. She had rough edges and had to do awful things to survive. She was cut down and so she would build walls around herself to keep from being hurt again. Santos was sweet. He reminded me of the Fuentes brothers from the Perfect Chemistry series. He was just entertaining to read about and a cute kid in general, although he was tougher than most. He was crafty in the streets and had a huge heart for the people he was with.When Joy gets to Seattle, the danger she ran away from may not be worse than the ones on the streets. In a place rife with secrets and hidden pasts, she doesn't necessarily know how to pick her battles. She does make a few mistakes, and they realistically catch up with her. However, it isn't all gloom-and-doom. She's pretty smart about it for somebody who has been sheltered for as long as she had.The problem with the environment that she was escaping from in this book was that while people thought that they were protecting her, they didn't really. It was more of the doubts and hidden secrets that affected her. When things are outright, they are easier to maneuver around. That was one of the main reasons that she ended up running away.The writing was absolutely beautiful. I found myself stunned by Cupala's word choice and usage. She formed the most beautiful sentences and made you think. The true talent of any writer lies in how they make you think for yourself, and apply the story to your own life. Not only was it escapism, but it was deep thought being brought to the surface. It evoked images and dreams and emotions that I hadn't even thought about for a long time. We find ourselves in Joy's plight and how she chooses to control it.The main theme of this book came across to me as self discovery. Joy/Triste needed to discover her inner strength and self before being able to move on. She had everybody telling her who she should be and how she should feel without allowing herself to feel for herself. It was more about her taking control than anything else. She needed to be able to be herself, and life without that freedom was suffocating.Another great part about this book was that it kept revealing bits and pieces throughout the book. We knew that one of the reasons that Joy ran away was because of her abusive boyfriend, but we didn't realize how awful he was until later in the book when she started divulging part of her memory. In another way, it made it more realistic because it was the way a conversation might go. Immediately, Joy blurted out the truth about Asher but as time went on, we learned the deeper details, as well as the sadness and shame that went with it all.There wasn't as much action, but it wasn't the type of book that needed it. It was very exciting towards the end but not predictable and not contrived. Everything felt very honest.The ideas of this book floored me. It was like Holly Cupala was whispering things into my ear while I was reading. You can read it on several levels if you would like. On the top is the entertainment level, but if you look further, the book speaks of deeper things. It had a very Before I Fall voice to it. It was very revealing.As we drew closer to the ending, I got extremely nervous. All the stories that you hear about teenage runaways never seem to turn out well. I was terrified that after all that Triste had been through, she would end up with an unhappy ending. I must admit that I was surprised by its ending. It didn't tie anything up too well, but it didn't leave the reader unhappy. It was both realistic and hopeful, which was what I needed from it.Don't Breathe a Word was one of those books that I read on a whim, but I'm so glad that I did. It was everything I was hoping for and more. It was dark and gritty, one of those powerful stories that plays with your emotions. The best part was that not only was it dark, but it was hopeful and emotional and simply entertaining. The character development was spot-on and thoughtful. The honesty was cutting. The atmosphere of the novel was so fragile and cleverly created that I was absorbed in this book for a few hours. I couldn't put it down, and if you pick it up, I promise that you won't be able to either.Recommended for anybody who loves: Bitter End; Perfect Chemistry; Before I Fall; Revolution; etc,.Possible book club questions:What do you think were Joy's parents' reactions when she ran away? Do you think they realized how much they had avoided her feelings?Why did Joy feel guilty about Asher?Why would Joy put all her hope into Creed, when she didn't even know him? Why do people do things like this?Do you think it would be throwing your life away or taking control of it if you ran away?Do you think that the ending was too unrealistic or do you think it was right? Why or why not?etc,.