Breath Like Water

Breath Like Water by Anna Jarzab

First Lines: The water is breathing. At least, that’s how it seems. I’ve always imagined it as a living thing, benevolent and obedient and faithful. A gentle beast at first, like a pony, but over time something faster. A thoroughbred, maybe. A cheetah sprinting across a flat, grassy plain.

This was a book I was determined to read this summer. Without the Summer Olympics this year, I was desperate to get a little bit of that any way I could–so this story of an Olympic hopeful was right on the money.

Susannah Ramos is a talented young swimmer, talented enough to become a world champion. Just as she’s poised to do something great, an inexplicable slowdown puts her dream–and career–in jeopardy. How is she supposed to regain her old glory? With her hope dwindling, two new people enter her life: a new coach with a revolutionary training method and a very cute new swimmer named Harry Matthews. As Susannah claws her way back to where she used to be, her friendship with Harry turns into more–a lot more. But Harry’s facing his own challenges, and as they get closer, it seems like the world keeps trying to pull them apart. As Susannah struggles to balance her dreams against what those she loves need most, she’ll learn the cost–and beauty–of trying to achieve greatness.

All I can really say to this is: woah.

This was just so well done. I can’t even tell you how realistic the characters felt. I mean, right from the very beginning, Susannah is clearly a perfectionist. You have to be if you want to make it to the Olympics. She’s driven and determined, but that constant drive to make it Olympic Trials has also made her pretty short-sighted in the rest of her life.

Every character, and I do mean every character that we see for more than two minutes, is flawed and realistic. There’s even one character who plays a “villain” role who is a pretty terrible person, but you can kind of also see why not everyone else sees it. I mean, the character development and the thought that must have gone into creating these characters is astounding. It’s one of the most realistic things I’ve ever read before.

The book tackles a lot of heavy topics, which was a bit of a happy surprise. Not that I thought the book was going to focus entirely on swimming, but it was nice to see it be more than that. I definitely do not want to spoil anything, so I won’t go into detail. You’ll just have to trust me that you’re going to feel the feels.

If there was one minor “ding” I could give this book, it’s that I felt like the whole “Harry’s hiding something from me” was overblown. Granted, we’re talking about teenagers and I do remember how easy it was to fixate on something like that, so it was believable. It was just from a reading standpoint it felt a little stale. But it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

I guess generally speaking, I found this book to be incredibly real, from the characters to the plot to what was going on in Susannah’s head all the time. It was moving and honest and it showed people making mistakes (sometimes repeatedly). I can’t imagine what kind of dedication it would take to be an Olympian, but this I think gave me a pretty good idea. 

Also, it was just really really good to fall into a world I really only see covered every 4 years. (Swimming has long been one of my favorite Olympic sports.)

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