________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 11 . . . . February 3, 2006


Breathless. (Orca Soundings).

Pam Withers.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2005.
101 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 1-55143-480-6.

Subject Headings:
Scuba diving - Juvenile fiction.
Body image - Juvenile fiction.
First loves - Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Andrea Szilagyi.

*** /4


I couldn't get enough. I flitted here and there, lightheaded with happiness. I felt totally annoyed when someone accidentally dragged his fin along the bottom. That kicked up so much sediment that we suddenly found ourselves in a dense cloud.

Which way was up? Where was everyone? My heart thumped as I reached through the haze for Garth. I heard my breathing accelerate to a hurried gasping. My stomach tightened. There he was, mask against mine, hands around my waist. Even in the midst of all that swirling dirt, where not another soul was in sight, I felt calmed. He pointed his finger upward and I nodded. We rose slowly together, eyes locked, holding hands. A part of me was reluctant to reach the surface.

"You didn't panic," Garth said, releasing my hands. I heard pride in his voice. It sounded genuine.

I smiled back. "I didn't panic."


Fifteen-year-old Beverly from Winnipeg, MB, is helping her uncle in his dive shop in Hawaii.  She's there for 10 days and has two goals: to get a boyfriend and to lose weight, even if meeting those goals means being with an older guy who is only interested in one thing and starving herself to drop a few pounds. The less she eats, the less energy she has for diving with Garth, her divemaster. It's only when she ends up in the hospital that she wakes up, literally, and comes to her senses.

     Recently, at the TD Canadian Children's Book Week Celebration in Vancouver, Withers commented that she felt the need to become a certified diver to write this book well, and she admitted to basing a few of the more poignant events in the novel on her own experiences learning to dive. The diving aspects of the novel are without a doubt more convincing and impressive as a result of the author's first-hand experience.

     Withers, in the span of this short novel, creates a realistic protagonist who deals with feelings of insecurity, struggles with defining personal boundaries, and is preoccupied with personal image.  The plot is straightforward and quick-paced, and the reading level is marked by Orca as 3.0+. What the book lacks in complexity, it makes up for in its vivid and exotic setting and clear messages about desperation and self-esteem.

     Teen girls, reluctant readers or not, will likely engage with Breathless because of its emotional appeal, vivid imagery, realistically portrayed characters, and engaging, brief, narrative. As well, the same audience will likely identify with the book's majors themes: sexuality and sexual curiosity, insecurity and problems arising from insecurity and self-doubt.


Andrea Szilagyi is a graduate student studying children's literature at the University of British Columbia.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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