Farrar Strauss & Giroux
Published March 30, 2021
About Breathing Underwater
Olivia is on the road trip of her dreams, with her trusty camera and her big sister Ruth by her side. Three years ago, before their family moved from California to Tennessee, Olivia and Ruth buried a time capsule on their favorite beach. Now, they’re taking an RV back across the country to uncover the memories they left behind. But Ruth’s depression has been getting worse, so Olivia has created a plan to help her remember how life used to be: a makeshift scavenger hunt across the country, like pirates hunting for treasure, taking pictures and making memories along the way.
All she wants is to take the picture that makes her sister smile. But what if things can never go back to how they used to be? What if they never find the treasure they’re seeking? Through all the questions, loving her sister, not changing her, is all Olivia can do—and maybe it’s enough.
Breathing Underwater is a sparkly, moving middle grade novel from Sarah Allen, and a big-hearted exploration of sisterhood, dreams, and what it means to be there for someone you love.
I love so many things about this book. The relationship between sisters Olivia and Ruth. The road trip. Olivia’s photography. The descriptions of the places they visit. The perspective of someone watching a beloved sibling struggle with depression.
Some parts of the story are hard and sad. Ruth’s depression is so present and real. Olivia’s love for her sister, her frustration and grief over the things she’s lost in her relationship with Ruth because of her illness, and her agony and guilt over feeling invisible and lost as her family focuses on her sister’s needs all felt so real and searing and raw.
In spite of those hard/sad things, though, Olivia is a bright, optimistic person at heart. She rallies and tries again. She finds beauty and humor. And she watches the people around her, looking for the ways they reach her sister that seem to work and to help. I love her ingenuity and her love for her sister.
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
Olivia’s sister Ruth has been diagnosed with depression.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
A pedestrian has a near accident with a car.
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