REVIEW: Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally
Dear Ms. Kenneally,
I’ve read several of your past novels, but completely missed the publication of this one and picked it up several months later. As with your past books, Breathe, Annie, Breathe is set in Tennessee, told entirely from the heroine’s point of view, and has sports as a major part of the story. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to do badly with sports romances, but this apparently does not apply in your case, and what you write seems authentic and realistic.
Several months before the story begins, Annie Winters loses her boyfriend Kyle, who dies tragically and unexpectedly – the exact circumstances of his death are not revealed for some time. Annie and Kyle, both high school seniors, had been together since they were freshmen and both assumed that they would one day marry. Kyle loved to run and was training for the Music City Marathon; Annie decides that she will run it in his memory. This is a problem, because Annie is a terrible runner and always has been. I know how that feels, and I can’t imagine taking on a marathon (or even a 10K, for that matter). Annie, however, sets herself goals and figures out how to get there.
She joins a structured training program and starts to meet new people, including the younger brother of her coach. Annie is not ready for a relationship, but she and Jeremiah do become closer and she finds him easy to talk to and be with. She also makes other friends, at school and through her running. At the same time, she still misses Kyle terribly, and blames herself for his death – for flimsy reasons, as it later turns out, but she believes it to be her fault.
This sort of bereavement is not something I’ve seen tackled very frequently in romance novels in general or in ones featuring younger protagonists. Too often the dead partner is either awful or simply forgettable. Kyle was neither, and while he and Annie were very young, they loved each other and wanted a life together. I think you did well in showing how Annie deals with her grief, how it affects her relationships with others and how she begins to grow from it, transitioning from running only for Kyle to doing it for herself.
Her relationship with Jeremiah progresses slowly, for a number of reasons – his brother does not want Jere to be involved with running clients, Annie isn’t ready at first and feels guilty, and eventually, as the two do become closer, she begins to struggle with Jere’s love of extreme sports and dangerous challenges. She can’t deal with the thought of losing another person whom she loves, and doesn’t understand why he needs to do these things. I have to say that I didn’t completely get it, either, and it seemed like something that was played up in order to set up conflict.
I liked that Annie doesn’t become an amazing runner; she becomes a better runner, but it’s a challenging process spread out over several months, and she deals with setbacks, health issues and emotional ups and downs. She’s never fast, but she perseveres and pushes herself to do better. I also appreciated that the story isn’t focused just on her new relationship, but also on her growth as a person and the role new friendships play in her life. In addition, I like that you write a lot of characters who grow up poor but have loving and supportive parents. I’ve seen poverty conflated with other things too often, and it’s good when an author doesn’t go there. Annie is the daughter of a teen mother and grew up in a trailer park, but she and her family work hard to make better lives for themselves.
My main criticisms are that I wasn’t as invested in Annie’s relationship with Jere, and I wonder if the book might have benefited from his point of view. I also felt that Annie’s voice was a bit similar to that of a number of your past heroines. This is understandable given the similar ages and sometimes life circumstances, but I think she could have been made a bit more distinctive in this regard.
Breathe, Annie, Breathe is part of the Hundred Oaks series, set at and around the same school, but the books take place over a span of several years and past characters don’t show up unless there’s a reason for them to be part of the story – like Annie’s coach Matt and her friends Vanessa and Savannah. So while it is not the first in a series, I think new readers could jump in with this one or any of your past books and not feel lost.
While I do have some reservations about Breathe, Annie, Breathe, overall I enjoyed it and I look forward to seeing what you do next with this series. B.