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The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

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

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.

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About the Contributor
Sarah Lukowski, Arts & Culture Editor | she/her
Sarah Lukowski is a senior journalism and public relations major from Middlebury, Connecticut. Sarah joined The Suffolk Journal in fall 2018 as a Staff Writer and is now the Arts & Culture Editor. When she's not typing away at her computer, you can find her proclaiming her love for Taylor Swift, reading the latest young adult novel, or watching classic horror movies. Follow Sarah on Twitter @thesarahdipity Email her at [email protected]

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  • J

    JoshNov 17, 2022 at 11:27 am

    I wholeheartedly agree. The fact that this story was based very tightly on a true story does spark a sense of realism. However I think that’s the only thing this book does a good job at. It is disappointing to read “All the Bright Places”, sift through books from the same author, then realize that she only really nailed it once. “Breathless” is something I would read over a long period of time, which does not necessarily make it bad, it is just not what I expected from Jennifer Niven, especially after reading her previous work.

  • D

    DanielleJan 6, 2021 at 8:38 am

    I respectfully disagree. I didn’t love Claude in the first 50 chapters; I thought the obsession with sex and losing her virginity etc was relevant to any person at that age. I starting to really love her once her dad announced divorce. Even though, I was lucky enough to not come from a broken home; I witness it every day in my high school classroom. I think the way she acted was pretty typical of the teenage girl of that age who takes this personal. She feels like her world is falling apart and to an adult it might seem a bit over dramatic, but too a teenager who has emotions; it seems real. Often times when a situation that causes trauma arises in the teen years, the mind and heart are 2 worlds apart. She needs to feel wanted and in control, so the thought of sex, a boyfriend makes sense. At 18 years old, teens think they know it all, but they do not. This novel had me laughing, yelling, and even crying. I never really saw the end coming until Claude did. I think it brought me back to a time of innocence, carefree, and confusion. I loved Breathless, and at some points it truly took my breathe away.

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