Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally ( web | tweet )
Part of the Hundred Oaks series.
Publication Date: July 15, 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: running, grief, high school to college, romance
Format read: ARC from author. (Thanks!)
Summary: Annie is determined to run the marathon that her boyfriend was training for when he died. She’s barely been able to run in gym class ever, but she signs up for training and devotes herself to it. At first, she feels like she owes it to him but soon running the marathon becomes about a whole lot more as she embarks on college life outside of her hometown, her friendship with Jeremiah, and rekindling old friendships.
I have a few friends that run a lot, and I’m always intrigued by their “how I started” stories. I couldn’t help but think of them as I began to get to know Annie. I know firsthand that even though my friends are very accomplished runners, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the act of running is easy or completely seamless. It’s work, sure, but there’s also the sweet feeling of success mixed in with some crazy adrenaline.
Reading as Annie continued to get up early and train, despite getting sick, despite feeling like crap, even made me want to pick up my sneakers and get out there and run. The level of accomplishment she met week after week was contagious.
This brings me to grief. It might be a little morbid but I think about how people choose to deal with grief a lot. Upon the death of her long-time boyfriend, Kyle, Annie decides she must complete this marathon — the marathon he was training for when he died. That’s the healthy side. But then there’s the other side — not talking to her mom about how she feels, continuing to think she is the one to blame, and generally not speaking his name outloud to anyone.
As Kenneally gradually unveils the details of Kyle’s death and the events that led to that tragic moment, we learn how strong and independent Annie is — how much she loved Kyle but how much she wanted to push herself in life. There are a ton of “what ifs”, for sure, but as she runs, as she lets more people in, she’s given the time and the opportunity to realize that no amount of “what ifs” can bring him back. She gradually has to find her peace and realizes no matter how much she hides, real life is always going to come knocking on her door.
Like Jeremiah, her running coach’s brother. Or her friends from high school who are more accessible than she thought.
Let me get this out of the way: the chemistry between Annie and Jeremiah is HOT and intense from the very first scene but I loved how Kenneally scaled it back and made their relationship so much about this strong friendship. Jeremiah is going through his own stuff, and might not be exactly the kind of guy Annie necessarily needs right now, but he’s entirely patient with her as she deals with all of her emotions and if I felt incredible grateful for him, I could only imagine how she felt. He was solid. She needed solid, even if solid also meant super good looking and um, a great kisser. Spoiler: the off-trail scene was omg-amazing.
Not only is Annie forced to rebuild this future she initially imagined with Kyle, but she’s also granted the opportunity to fix things with her ex-best friend and get closer with girls from high school even when it seems like it could be too late. I loved that Kenneally focused on gal friendships; it’s so crucial to the move from high school to college and it brought Breathe, Annie, Breathe to a whole new level for me.
This is the thing. Even though Breathe, Annie, Breathe is part of the Hundred Oaks series (and includes some awesome cameos, of course), it felt more like a standalone than any of Kenneally’s other books. (Can we get a round of applause for her first hardcover, please?) I loved his unexpected glimpse into college life, and felt the ratio of self-discovery: romance: friendship was incredibly well-done. As Annie inched closer and closer to her marathon, all of the emotions were also growing in me, making the last pages so cathartic and gorgeous. (Yes, I cried.)
It’s true Kenneally’s newest book always becomes my new favorite. (Though my soft spot for Stealing Parker has never wavered.) But I thought she brought a whole new A-game to the young adult genre with Breathe, Annie, Breathe. It was heartbreaking, sexy, funny, and inspiring in so many ways.