Jennifer Niven’s “Breathless” isn’t as magical as her previous YA novels

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The cover of Jennifer Niven’s newest young adult novel “Breathless.”

Author Jennifer Niven released her third young adult novel, “Breathless” on Sept. 29, which follows teenager Claude Henry as she navigates friendships, love, family dynamics and first times in the summer before college.

Before Claude is whisked away to a remote island off the coast of Georgia with her mom to uncover their family legacy, her parents painfully announce their separation, leaving Claude feeling like her life is a lie. 

When Claude arrives on this mosquito-infested island with a broken heart and the betrayal of leaving her dad and best friend behind in Ohio, she meets the enigmatic local guide Jeremiah Crew – who unfortunately hates being called J. Crew. 

Despite Claude’s anger and frustration, Jeremiah still loves Claude for who she is. It’s a cute, budding relationship, but unfortunately one that just doesn’t go anywhere.

Claude is a bit too sex-obessed, and when she sleeps with Jeremiah for the first time, she realizes it wasn’t as amazing as she always dreamed it would be. She still felt the same the next morning, which is a valid feeling. But the reader will quickly find that Claude’s thoughts on sex were just too much and quite frankly annoying.  

Her emotions throughout the 414-page book just doesn’t seem to match her situation. Her parents are going through a painful divorce, but Claude is too chaotic and is always in the mood to make out with Jeremiah. When she isn’t with Jeremiah, she sulks, but when she is with him it’s like nothing else matters. Her story was all over the place and rushed.

Jeremiah was once again one of those “bad boy” characters that is so often included in teen-centered books. Jeremiah was introduced with a harsh past, but his backstory was barely discussed in the book. It was frustrating at times when Niven wrote Jeremiah out to be a broken, young man that just needed attention and sex to be “fixed.” This trope in young adult books is just too overdone and cliché. 

The ending was also underwhelming, since (spoiler!) Jeremiah and Claude both go their separate ways to continue their personal lives on the mainland. This short-lived summer romance ended on an unfulfilled and uninspiring note.

However, the world building was incredible in this book. Readers are immersed in this isolated island and the author’s vivid description of its historic buildings, wildlife and eccentric cast of misfit characters. The Georgia setting was a great backdrop to Jeremiah and Claude’s relationship and did make it a bit more romantic compared to if it had taken place in Claude’s Ohio hometown. 

Niven is better known for her 2015 novel “All the Bright Places,” which was adapted into a Netflix movie in 2020 that starred Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. This book, although a bit romanticized, powerfully portrays mental illness and teen romance and solidified Niven as one of the top authors in the young adult genre.

However, it is unlikely that Niven will create a book just as magical as “All the Bright Places.” Her later books, including “Breathless,” just don’t hit the same peak that “All the Bright Places” did. 

Claude’s story also loosely mirrors Niven’s life, and it’s a nice personal touch that does give this novel some dynamic. Niven wrote in an article for Female First that in the summer before college, her parents separated and she moved away from her hometown with her mom and met her now husband there, just like Claude met Jeremiah.

It’s difficult for young adult novels to really stand out these days as the genre is so saturated. Unfortunately, this book is unmemorable and doesn’t stand out. Although it is a fun and cute romantic novel and would make for a great summer read, “Breathless” just doesn’t have that spark, like “All the Bright Places” had.