YA Contemporary Book Review

The Place Between Breaths

The Place Between BreathsThe Place Between Breaths
Author: An Na
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
First Published: March 27, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Mental Health Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 192
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library


Sixteen-year-old Grace is in a race against time—and in a race for her life—even if she doesn’t realize it yet…

She is smart, responsible, and contending with more than what most teens ever should. Her mother struggled with schizophrenia for years until, one day, she simply disappeared—fleeing in fear that she was going to hurt those she cared about most. Ever since, Grace’s father has worked as a recruiter at one of the leading labs dedicated to studying the disease, trying to lure the world’s top scientists to the faculty to find a cure, hoping against hope it can happen in time to help his wife if she is ever found. But this makes him distant. Consumed.

Grace, in turn, does her part, interning at the lab in the gene sequencing department daring to believe that one day they might make a breakthrough…and one day they do. Grace stumbles upon a string of code that could be the key. But something inside of Grace has started to unravel. Could her discovery just be a cruel side effect of the disease that might be taking hold of her? And can she even tell the difference?

Also by this author: A Step from Heaven

Warnings: Child Abuse

My Thoughts

The Place Between Breaths is an emotionally raw story about mental illness and the ways that it can weigh heavily on our lives. Schizophrenia is a serious illness wherein those that have it experience severe delusions. Its causes are unknown and require lifelong treatment to keep symptoms under control. The plot for this novel is difficult to pin down and there are a lot of questionable holes in the plot that won’t be wrapped up nicely, which was oddly fitting given the subject matter.

The research and lab portion of the book had potential but it was left largely unexplored. Everything about Gnentium and the schizophrenia research was there mostly as a backstory for the main character’s father and to be a reminder of hope. Some of the science that happens in the novel is either made up or questionable, and I could have done without some of it.

“I see the cliff’s edge drawing nearer. I must jump or I will fall.”

I appreciated this book for the way that it attempts to open a discussion about mental illness. Severe depression and mental illness can be disorienting and it can affect anyone. It becomes clear pretty quickly that the main character is unstable, but to what extent doesn’t become clear until later in the novel as Grace’s mental state deteriorates. I felt connected to Grace and felt just as confused, stressed, and disoriented as she did while reading, and for that, I have to appreciate the writing for the way that it was constructed.

Speaking of mental illness, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this book’s message about it. Is it difficult? Yes. Is there hope? No, hope is foolish. While it was nice to see some of the characters hold out hope for a cure, this book was pretty bleak with the way that it presents mental illness and the people suffering from it. Grace feels hopeless about her condition and her outlook on life becomes worse the more her illness progresses. The cycle with children and mental illness and not having any hope for a decent life was just too dark, too depressing. I honestly found it a little unfair to the millions of people struggling with mental illness out there that do try and carve out some semblance of a good life for themselves. Does mental illness make everything harder? Yes. But is that all there is? No. Overall a decent read, but I wished that there could’ve been a little more from it.


About An Na

An Na was born in South Korea and grew up in San Diego, California. As a young person, she never imagined that she would grow up to be a writer. First, she thought she was supposed to be a doctor, but then after realizing how many years of schooling it would take, she moved her sights to being a pharmacist. In college, after taking political science and chemistry, being a lawyer started looking really good. It was only during her senior year in college, when she took a children’s literature class, did she discover her true love of writing. Having always been an avid reader, it had never dawned on her until that class that real people wrote books. Ding!

She left college with a clear goal to write and publish picture books. In the meantime, to keep her parents off her back, she worked as an English and history teacher for middle schoolers, pastry chef, video store clerk, ticket taker for Cirque du Soleil, and scared substitute for kindergarteners. After a few years of working, she went back to school and received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. Her first novel, A Step From Heaven, was written during her time there and went on to be published, garnering awards such as the: Michael L. Printz Award, International Reading Association Award, National Book Award Finalist, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and New York Times Book Review Notable. Wait for Me and The Fold followed a few years after along with two beautiful daughters. Writers can birth multiple entities, but not at the same time.

The Place Between Breaths, a forthcoming young adult spring 2018 novel will be published by Atheneum: Caitlyn Dlouhy Books. She lives in Vermont and teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adult’s MFA program. When she is not reading, writing, teaching or moming, she likes to run away from her chickens, make lots of food for gatherings and play amateur architect.

I’m a Filipino American blogger, historian, and lazy writer. I enjoy books, video games, anime/manga, and smoking hookah.

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