More and more of my reading time has been devoted to mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels. I’m one of those readers who loves to try to solve the mysteries quickly and note somewhere exactly where in the book I think I figured it all out. Try Not to Breathe was great fun to try to puzzle out. I won’t give anything away here, though, so don’t worry.
Here’s the blurb:
Some secrets never die. They’re just locked away.
Alex Dale is lost. Destructive habits have cost her a marriage and a journalism career. All she has left is her routine: a morning run until her body aches, then a few hours of forgettable work before the past grabs hold and drags her down. Every day is treading water, every night is drowning. Until Alex discovers Amy Stevenson. Amy Stevenson, who was just another girl from a nearby town until the day she was found unconscious after a merciless assault. Amy Stevenson, who has been in a coma for fifteen years, forgotten by the world. Amy Stevenson, who, unbeknownst to her doctors, remains locked inside her body, conscious but paralyzed, reliving the past.
Soon Alex’s routine includes visiting hours at the hospital, then interviews with the original suspects in the attack. But what starts as a reporter’s story becomes a personal obsession. How do you solve a crime when the only witness lived but cannot tell the tale? Unable to tear herself away from her attempt to uncover the unspeakable truth, Alex realizes she’s not just chasing a story—she’s seeking salvation.
Shifting from present to past and back again, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer until its heart-stopping conclusion. The result is an utterly immersive, unforgettable debut.
That pretty well sums it up. But it gives the impression that we’re only getting Alex and Amy’s POVs and that’s not actually true. We also regularly hear from Jacob, Amy’s old boyfriend who has never really gotten over her and spends quite a lot of time with her in the hospital, to the detriment of his marriage.
I want to say right off that I truly enjoyed this book. The characters – Alex, Amy, and Jacob – were fairly complex and realistic. I think the author did a fantastic job with Alex. The detail with which her alcoholism is discussed and the manner in which it’s presented to the reader helped to bring the character depth and life. She was flawed and real and I cared for her. Amy’s progression was also interesting and I shuddered a few times thinking about what it would be like to be her. And Jake, poor Jake, I wouldn’t describe what I felt for him as heartbreak, but something close. I don’t think anyone could not feel bad for the guy.
The mystery, itself, I thought was well-done and I wasn’t certain who the bad guy was until I hit 83%. There were a couple red herrings thrown in for good measure but, ultimately, I found the way the story played out very satisfying. There was enough focus on the individual main characters to make us care about them and hope for their success but not too much as to take away from the reason they’ve all been brought together. The balance felt just right to me.
While I definitely recommend this book, it certainly wasn’t perfect. There was one character given a POV for two or three chapters who I don’t think needed to be included. It felt jarring to move between Alex, Jacob, and Amy steadily only to be dropped into this other character’s head when it didn’t seem to add anything to the plot. I don’t recall any information given that couldn’t have been provided in another way or that was truly necessary.
There was one thing that Amy did several times that I found unbelievable and made me grimace each time: she referred to the mystery man as “my secret.” As in, when she would have said or thought his name, she replaced it with “my secret” or a variation of that. If she were talking to someone else, maybe, just maybe that would fly but I cannot imagine anyone who would be thinking to themselves replacing a proper first name with something like that. It’s just not how we think – at least not how I would ever think of someone I knew. It felt unnatural and simply a way to avoid using a name which would have, obviously, given away the bad guy.
I also found the penultimate chapter a bit flat and somewhat of a let-down. Once I figured out whodunnit, I wanted to steam on through to the end and have justice done in a blaze of glory or some other exciting climax and that just didn’t happen. Yes, everything was wrapped up in a way that was pretty unique, I think, but not very thrilling.
Even with the slow wrap-up, I still found this book a great read. I was engaged the entire time and actively working to solve the mystery. I only wish I would have had access to the audio version. With the right narrators, I bet it’ll be great. Also, the end was left open to a possible series – I hope I read that correctly – which I would definitely be interested in. This is the author’s debut novel and I can only imagine how good the next book will be.
A big thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
You can download a sample or purchase Try Not to Breathe by clicking here.