EXCERPT: Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. HubbardThursday, January 19, 2012 13:00
If you have teenagers, you might want to read this book. Then give it to him or her to read. It covers a lot of ground from the perspective of a depressed, post-suicidal teen. From family to school to his own inner thoughts, Try Not to Breathe doesn’t dwell on the negative. The story follows Ryan as he tries to move on, which he does with remorse, a good sense of humor, and more insight into himself and those around him than he had before.
Even if you don’t have teenagers, this is a book worth reading. Young adults today go through so much, and Jennifer Hubbard takes a look deep into that world with emotion and humor. Even a little romance. Yeah, remember those days? And maybe for some you, you might remember a few of the same issues Ryan is living today.
Learning to live is more than just choosing not to die, as sixteen-year-old Ryan discovers in the year following his suicide attempt. Despite his mother’s anxious hovering and the rumors at school, he’s trying to forget the darkness from which he has escaped. But it doesn’t help that he’s still hiding guilty secrets, or that he longs for a girl who may not return his feelings. Then he befriends Nicki, who is using psychics to seek contact with her dead father. This unlikely friendship thaws Ryan to the point where he can face the worst in himself. He and Nicki confide in one another the things they never thought they’d tell anyone—but their confessions are trickier than they seem, and the fallout tests the bound of friendship and forgiveness.
It was dangerous to stand under the waterfall, but some kids did it anyway, and I was one of them. The water pounded my mind blank, stung my skin. It hit my naked back, chest, and shoulders so hard I couldn’t think. That water could knock me over, pound me into hypothermia, force the breath out of me, pin me to the rock, and I knew it.
But I kept doing it.
My parents’ heads would’ve shot through the roof if they’d known. They’d done their best to wrap me in cotton since I’d gotten out of Patterson Hospital a few months before. My mother panicked if I missed a dose of my meds, so I sure wasn’t going to tell her about the waterfall. How could I explain it anyway?
Because I needed it. The roaring water shot over the ledge and beat down on my shoulders and head, a thunder I felt even through the slick stones under my feet. My nerves crackled and buzzed. It was all I could do to stand still against the water.
Whatever else I had messed up in my life, I could do that much: stand still. Okay, so I wasn’t setting the bar too high.
There were rumors that a guy had drowned here once, or that he’d fallen from the cliff and smashed his head on the rocks, his brains spilling into the pool below. Each version of the story was bloodier and less believable than the last.
There were rumors about me, about what I’d done back in the spring. Everyone snuck looks at me in the school halls after I got out of Patterson. Sometimes I was tempted to foam at the mouth and babble to invisible people, because the other kids seemed so disappointed that I didn’t. But I couldn’t be sure they would realize it was a joke. The few times I’d tried to make anyone laugh, all I got were nervous glances and squirming. Nobody expected me to have a sense of humor, and it was safer for me to let them think I might be crazy than to give them proof.
So I knew about rumors, how they were 95 percent bullshit with maybe one kernel of truth. I wasn’t sure where the kernel was in the story about the dead guy at the waterfall.
I first went under the waterfall in May, and I kept it up all summer. July was so hot, I imagined steam pouring off me whenever the icy rush hit my skin.
Early in August, we got rain. I watched the waterfall from the stream bank, waiting for the cool stormy weather to pass, for the heat to return.
I was sitting there one day when Kent Thornton’s sister came by. Kent was going into eleventh grade like me, and I knew his sister was a year younger, but I’d never talked to her much. Last year she’d been at the junior high, since Seaton High didn’t start until tenth grade.
“Hey.” I tried to remember her name, but couldn’t.
She stood watching the water charge over the cliff. Ferns waved in the breeze. “Are you going in?” she asked.
“No, not today.” All that rain had swelled the creek and the waterfall. I was tempted to see if I could stand up under the cold weight of that water, but I wasn’t completely insane, no matter what kids at school might whisper about me.
“I do it all the time.” She grinned. “My friend Angie won’t even stick her foot in the water. She says the rocks are too slippery.”
“They are slippery.” Not that it had ever stopped me.
Kent’s sister wiped sweat off the back of her neck. “You live up at the glass house, don’t you?”
“It’s not glass.” I hated when people called it that. It sounded like we were expecting some TV show to feature us in our architectural wonder of a home. Lifestyles of People Who Have Way More Money Than You. “It just has a lot of windows.”
“Whatever. That’s your house, right?”
Her face flushed pink. “Just wondered.” She waved at the waterfall. “Dare me to go under there?”
“Nah, it’s too cold today. And strong. It’s kind of dangerous.”
She stepped into the water. Ripples spread out from her foot. She wore a tank top and shorts, which she didn’t take off. She walked toward the waterfall, slipping once on the mossy rocks.
I followed her with my eyes. Dread squeezed my stomach and wedged a lump at the back of my throat. I didn’t even know this girl, but I had no desire to see her crushed, drowned. She disappeared under the silver curtain of water.
I stood up because I couldn’t see her anymore. I squinted at the foaming water, trying to see into it, through it.
My fingers tapped the sides of my thighs as if counting the seconds she’d been under. How long should I wait before going in after her? If I should go in at all—there being a narrow line between heroes and idiots.
Kent’s sister ducked out, spitting, hair glued flat to her head. I exhaled. She lifted a handful of wet hair off her face, shook herself like a dog, and laughed. She splashed toward me.
“You all right?” I said.
Her lips were purple; her skin prickled with goose bumps. Her teeth hammered against each other.
“I should’ve brought a towel,” she said.
I’d done that before—remembered the towel only after I was wet. “I can get you one.”
“Okay.” She rubbed her arms. “That sounds fantastic.”