Book Review: Learning to Breathe by Karen White

Learning to Breathe

Title: Learning to Breathe

Author: Karen White

Published: March 2007

Rating: ★★  

Summary: Brenna O’Brien is content with her life as a thirty-something single woman living in the small town she has lived in her whole life, running a struggling historic movie theater. She prefers her life this way, without anything to disappoint her. She was once disappointed by the only boy she ever loved, Pierce McGovern, when he left for college without another word. Her four sisters try desperately to set her up on dates, but Brenna has only found them to be an array of terrible excursions. When Pierce returns to town to help is ailing father, she can’t help but remember her feelings for him long ago and the pain he caused her.

Thoughts: Writing a summary for this book was actually really difficult. It proved difficult because there was so much going on in this contemporary read. The premise of this book sounded like a story that I could curl up on the couch and escape into, and at times it was, but mostly it was a story that required me to be on my toes drawing relationship diagrams in my brain to keep everything straight. I think this book is a case of biting off a little more than one can chew. Let’s start with the characters. For a relatively short book, there was a truck load of characters to get to know. Brenna has 4 sisters, each of them married with kids. That alone is a lot to become acquainted with. Then she had a crazy aunt, a best friend, flashbacks to her deceased parents, several bad dates, her ex-boyfriend, her ex-boyfriend’s dad, and several more characters that I just don’t feel like overwhelming YOU with! It was a lot to keep straight. I wish White had narrowed the cast down a bit and just worked on developing each of them. I really couldn’t keep all of her sisters straight and didn’t really think it was that important that I should make an effort to do so. Then there were the missed connections, thwarted romances, and unopened letters. It completely floored me how many people in her town and in her circle experienced one or more of these scenarios. Someone really ought to investigate the issues with the postal office in this town. There were a lot of letters that didn’t get delivered…like a lot. I think thwarted love/missed connections was the most over-used trope in this book that really sunk down the quality of the story. I frankly couldn’t believe the story was plausible. There is a box of unopened letters addressed to Pierce’s dying dad about a love that was not to be. Brenna and Pierce wallow in a love that was not to be. Brenna’s aunt experienced a love that was not to be. There is hinting that Brenna’s sister (I can’t remember which) experienced a love that was not to be. I was mostly left thinking, what is wrong with the people in this town? Am I supposed to actually believe that this situation could happen on the regular in this family? I’m no mathematician, but I would say the odds of this reoccurring are slim.

I have way more to say, but will stop there. I liked the small-town setting of this story and the strong family focus. I also love a story that showcases a lost first love coming back into the picture. There were moments when I really liked this book, but as I have stated, it was just overwritten and under-edited. It has the bones of a great, heartwarming story, but alas it was not to be. I truthfully think this story, stripped down a bit, would make a great Hallmark Channel movie. I mean that with all the love in my heart for the simple, formulaic, guilty pleasure that is a Hallmark Channel movie.

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