Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala

SUMMARY: Joy delamere is suffocating.

From asthma, from her parents, and from her boyfriend, Asher, who is smothering her from the inside out. She can take his cruel words, his tender words . . . until the night they go too far.

To escape, Joy sacrifices her suburban life to find the one who offered his help, a homeless boy called Creed. He introduces her to a world of fierce loyalty, to its rules of survival, and to love—a world she won’t easily let go.

Set against the backdrop of the streets of Seattle, Holly Cupala’s power­ful new novel explores the subtleties of abuse, the secrets we keep, and the ways to redemption. But above all, it is an unflinching story about the extraordinary lengths one girl will go to discover her own strength.


The Short Version:
Emotional, gripping, and superbly written, Don’t Breathe a Word not only forces the reader to see things in a new light but weaves a tale of both hope and survival. With a protagonist whose motivations are strong, understandable, and relatable, and a supporting cast that is incredibly well developed, Cupala’s skills at both building a story and unique, multifaceted characters shines. Hitting on some incredibly hard concepts with an unflinching poignancy, Don’t Breathe a Word holds everything an amazing book should, and more.

The Extended Version:
Joy is a character who seems potentially weak at the start, yet has this huge internal drive and strength that shines even amidst the weakness. Truly caught between a rock and a hard place, and forced into a silence of sorts, Joy runs away from home, choosing the streets over the life she’s known. Early on, Cupala lets the reader know the full scope of reasons, far beyond simply a teenager throwing some tantrum. Though Joy has a lot to learn once on her own, and even her preconceptions about street life are challenged, she faces it all head on despite the fear and worries that lurk. Her entire character development is astoundingly well done, building at a steady rate and in response to the multitude of things she faces. Joy is truly an exceptional character, one who even teens not in her specific situation can relate to and identify with.

Creed is a charmer in a soft way, with a bit of a hero complex but which comes across in a way that isn’t simply a show or trying to win girls over. An incredibly talented musician, and the exception to the rule about street kids to some extent, he’s someone who is fiercely loyal yet not defined by it. Though there is a rough side of him that is shown in a few key scenes, Creed is the epitome of gentle soul that every girl wants in her life. Swoonworthy in the subtlest of ways, his overall character is completely memorable, completely well developed, and completely amazing.

May and Santos close out the small group Joy finds herself in, as lively, distinct and unique in personality as Joy and Creed. The interactions between the four range from light and fun to heavy, heartbreaking, and wrenching, and Cupala navigates each one perfectly. Through flashbacks and memories, Joy’s life before leaving is revealed, giving strong characterization to her family and friends. The differences in how Joy acts with those she knew before, and those she meets on the streets, is understandably different and written in a fantastic manner to smooth it out for readers.

The plot has a very steady pace, relying not only on the perfectly planned reveals and building mystery about a few key points for why Joy left, but also on Joy herself and everything she goes through. The way she views things changes in some huge ways, both through the things she goes through and what she learns about the other’s pasts, and this interlinks with the plot progression easily. Lifting in some parts, but with the idea that there is no guarantee for things to stay good constantly hanging overhead, this plot is driven as much by the characters as the world around them.

The setting is as much a character as Joy herself, vivid in its portrayal and absolutely realistic. Cupala has captured the atmosphere of street life in a way that readers who’ve never experienced can understand, and even imagine themselves in it. The writing is infused with emotion in a way that cannot be faked, and is a true testament to Cupala’s inherent skills. Absolutely gripping from the start, gutting more than once, and engaging in a way that keeps the reader turning the pages start to finish without stopping, Don’t Breathe a Word is a masterfully done contemporary.

Source: ARC received from author/publisher in exchange for an honest review
Reading level: Ages 14 and up
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: January 3, 2012


  1. Oh wow. This sounds like, really great! And I already had my eye on it! I'm really excited to read it now! Awesome review!
    Xpresso Reads

  2. I've been seeing this book everywhere online and I've had my eye on it. I'm definitely going to have to read it now!

    Nerd Girls at Books to the Sky