Written by Sophie Hardcastle
Conteporary, Coming of Age, #LoveOzYA
Published July 12th 2016
Thanks to Hachette Australia
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Nineteen minutes and eleven seconds separated us at birth. On the official documentation, he is older... Although it really has nothing to do with age. What it really means is that I am, and have always been, second.
Ben and Grace Walker are twins. Growing up in a sleepy coastal town it was inevitable they'd surf. Always close, they hung out more than most brothers and sisters, surfing together for hours as the sun melted into the sea. At seventeen, Ben is a rising surf star, the golden son and the boy all the girls fall in love with. Beside him, Grace feels like she is a mere reflection of his light. In their last year of school, the world beckons, full of possibility. For Grace, finishing exams and kissing Harley Matthews is just the beginning.
Then, one day, the unthinkable. The sun sets at noon and suddenly everything that was safe and predictable is lost. And everything unravels.
For Ben and Grace, the water has always been their first love and secondly, the bond the twins share with one another. Both born to the waves in the sleepy seaside town, it's Ben who shines brightly with Grace basking in the sunshine of her brother's achievements, a free spirit who is upheld by the community, his peers and Grace and Ben's parents.
Until her world falls apart.
Grace finds herself in a downward spiral of alcohol and drug abuse, numbing the darkness that threatens to overwhelm her now meager existence. The waves no longer call to her, the sunshine no longer warms her skin and for Grace Walker, it's easier to sink than swim.
Breathing Under Water was immaculate. An emotional journey of teen grief, familial despair and those left behind. Grace has always lived within twin Ben's shadow, content in the role of Ben's sister, while Ben is on the verge of a professional surfing career. Ben and Grace share a tender and loving sibling connection and although Ben is popular and free spirited, he ensures Grace is never left behind. But the time has come for Grace to forge her own path into the world and when Harley Matthews returns to town, this may be the opportunity Grace needs to begin her life in the sunshine, rather than being protected by Ben's shadow.
But before Grace's life can begin, tragedy strikes and threatens to tear her family apart.
The aftermath of bereavement and loss is always confronting, especially within young adult reads as characters are often still forging their own paths in life. My heart ached for the Walker family. While Grace's mother becomes a shadow of her former self, her father throws himself into his work to avoid spending time with his family. Harley begins to isolate himself from Grace, leaving Grace to rely on emotionally absent parents, the ever growing divide between herself and best friend Mia and Jake, Ben's best friend who is content to ride a downward spiral into alcohol and drug abuse, taking Grace along for the ride.
I found Grace's method of coping confronting, but entirely realistic. She's enabled by Jake who is content to drown his sorrows in a cocktail of alcohol and recreational drugs. She feels that no one other than Jake understands the sorrow in her life and cannot see past her own grief as she spirals out of control. As the Walker family unit begins to break down, it's Grace's best friend Mia who is isolated, abused by Grace herself when lashing out all whilst dealing with a drunken sexual assault in which her perpetrator was never held to account. It also highlighted how females who have been sexually assaulted or victims of rape, fail to report the assault to the authorities. I had hoped the friends in Mia's life would have addressed the issue, beyond Ben defending her honour with a show of male dominance. Seeing Mia's light extinguished, her once vibrant persona now withdrawn and I desperately wanted justice for her.
Set within a quintessential Australian coastal town, Sophie Hardcastle weaves a beautifully poignant story of loss, losing your way and how tragedy threatens to drown those left behind. The writing was delicate and lyrical, captivating from the very first page. Sophie Hardcastle is a phenomenal author who will no doubt become an Australian favourite with teens for many generations to come.
Gazing at the splinters of a life once lived, I finally come to see life for all that it is. We breathe, for a while, and then we come to rest. We become the earth, the clouds and the deep sea currents, the summer swells and the winter tides.