________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 31. . . .April 13, 2018


Forgetting How To Breathe.

Anita Daher.
Winnipeg, MB: Yellow Dog/Great Plains, 2018.
136 pp., trade pbk., $11.95.
ISBN 978-1-927855-91-1

Grades 5-7 / Ages 10-12.

Review by Mary Harelkin Bishop.

*** /4



Tia was the only one who cared enough to get this done, the only one who would turn every stone, follow every lead, until Mama was found. It wouldn’t be easy, especially with no Richard, but she had no choice.

Better she did this now than wait until Cathy finally had enough of her and sent both her and Tag somewhere else. For all Cathy’s faults, Tia knew she would never split up a brother and sister. But Tag liked it here. And this family liked Tag.

The pain in her heart threatened to split her in two.

From her school notebook she tore a blank page and wrote a note for Tag.

I love you. I am going to find Mama.

Quickly, not wanting to lose her resolve, she placed the note on Tag’s bed, packed a change of clothes and her treasure box in her backpack, and left.

At the Ice Pony Ranch and Animal Rescue Centre, Tia ducked behind a leafy tree just outside the paddock fence. Grandpa Bebe was riding Garri. She couldn’t let him see her – he might have questions she wasn’t prepared to answer – but she needed to visit Disa one last time.

She looked to the house to make sure Jennifer wasn’t looking out the window. Scanning the yard she realized her truck wasn’t even there. Good.

Tia dashed to the barn, looked again at the kitchen window. An idea sparked, big and terrible.

What was that old saying? Desperate times call for desperate measures. Like Mama said, sometimes that mean doing things you never thought you would.


Tia is a 13-year old who has been placed in a new foster home along with her younger brother, Tag. The pair doesn’t last long in foster homes, and Tia is tired of the upheaval and constant moving from place to place. Their mother has deserted them, and no one knows where she is. Tia is not happy with the situation, especially when she is informed that she and Tag may not keep a stray dog they found. She feels as if the whole world is against her. She is also sure she is the only one who is looking for her mother. Tag seems to have settled into this new foster home and is enjoying the security, comfort and warm relationships.

      This foster home does feel different, if only Tia would let down her guard a bit and get to know the foster parents, Cathy and Bob, and their twin three-year old daughters. Tia’s feelings are understandably confused. She fluctuates between wanting to do well in the new home, yet feeling like she’s forgetting that her mother needs her. At times, she also openly resents being asked to do chores and look after the twins. Tia’s angst, her feelings of insecurity as well as her feelings of betraying her mother are always bubbling near the surface just waiting to erupt.

      Down the country lane, Tia and Tag discover a horse rescue ranch and are lucky to learn that their stray dog can have a new home there. Tia loves horses and begins to work on the ranch, helping with chores and getting to know the owners, Grandpa Bebe and Jennifer. Still, Tia is always sure she and Tag will be forced to leave their new foster home because she, Tia, will do something wrong. She is sure it is only a matter of time before she messes up and they send her away. Rather than let that happen, Tia plots to run away, find her mother and make them a real family once again.

      The characters and most situations in Forgetting How to Breathe feel real and true to life. Tia, although somewhat whiney, is acting in character with her situation. It is normal that her thoughts and feelings would vacillate along with her concern for her mother and her guilt that she, Tia, is abandoning her. As the story moves along, the author does a good job of slowly revealing more and more background information about Tia and Tag’s relationship with their mother and their life situation with her. Tia’s relationship, hot and cold, with her foster mom also rings true to life as Tia wrestles with all of her emotions.

      Tia’s relationships with the horse rescue staff, Grandpa Bebe and Jennifer, and the horses, are warm and authentic. The reader and Tia are introduced to a bit of Icelandic Canadian culture and food and Icelandic horses which makes the story interesting. Tia is able to let her guard down here, and she shows warmth toward her new friends and the animals with which she gets to interact. There are a few learning curves for Tia as she takes on more responsibility at the rescue ranch. She also makes mistakes which often set her back to thinking and feeling that she is the one who always messes things up for her and Tag.

      The action of the story is good. The book opens with Tia and Tag on a country lane, running away to Winnipeg to look for their mother. They are ‘rescued’ by finding the horse rescue centre, and Tia finds a safe place to be herself. The mistakes she makes add to the plot and add interest to the story.

      The climax is a little far-fetched for me in that Tia must deliver one of the horse’s foals when Grandpa Bebe is hurt and Jennifer delayed. Could a 13-year old actually do this, even with an adult (Grandpa Bebe) close by and giving instructions? I talked to a few friends who have horses and cattle. and they all commented on the amount of strength needed to either turn a foal in the birth canal and/or straighten its legs for birth. I doubt a young girl could actually do this, even if her favourite horse is in trouble.

      Throughout the birthing scene, the author describes Tia “going in” and “reaching in” the animal, although the actual terms and parts of the horse’s body are never named. I found this strange and, in my own mind, I inserted ‘birth canal’ in places; a very benign term, but perhaps a bit more effective. Most young readers, I believe, would want to know the correct terminology and would likely be googling and looking for pictures to complete their understanding of the situation and the birth. In this instance, the writer might as well fill in some of the blanks for them.

      All in all, I enjoyed reading about Tia and Tag in Forgetting How to Breathe and learning about the Icelandic horses and Icelandic culture in Manitoba. I found Tia and Tag to be authentic characters in real-life situations.


Mary Harelkin Bishop is the author of the “Tunnels of Moose Jaw Adventure” series published by Coteau. She has also published a biography about Canadian Paralympic Champion Colette Bourgonje, entitled Moving Forward, and a picture book version called Gina’s Wheels. Mistasiniy: Buffalo Rubbing Stone (2016) deals with the relationship between a Cree boy and a boy of European descent and won the Purple Dragonfly Honourable Mention for Young Adult Fiction. Mary’s newest book is Skye Bird and the Eagle Feather (2017).

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