Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: Breathing Underwater by Sarah Allen

I’m so excited to be back with a blog tour with Xpresso Tours for Breathing Underwater by Sarah Allen. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing the ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Be sure to click on the banner above to check out the other bloggers on tour!
Also, don’t forget to enter the GIVEWAY (US/CAN) at the end of my post!

Goodreads: Breathing Underwater
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publish Date: 31 March 2021
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Panda Rating:

(4 pandas)

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.

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Sarah Allen has been published in The Evansville Review, Allegory, and on WritersDigest. She has an MFA from Brigham Young University. Like Libby in her novel What Stars are Made Of, Allen was born with Turner Syndrome.

Author Socials:
Website | Instagram | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.

TL;DR: This was a touching middle grade read that presents a realistic portrayal of the relationship between two sisters and handles the heavy topic of mental health and depression very well. Olivia is one of the most honestly endearing and genuine characters I’ve read in a long time and I really connected to the sister-bond in this story. It’s not exactly a ‘happy’ or ‘light’ read but it is hopeful. I’d recommend this to readers of all ages, but especially young readers, who seek to gain an understanding of depression as the author writes about it in a very accessible way.

“One of the worst parts about depression is that it’s not like an outside illness, where you can see the broken bone or the red swollen nose. It’s an inside illness where you have to know the subtle signs.”

Breathing Underwater didn’t have a fast-paced plot but it was a quick read. The story flowed well and takes place over the course of a week and though one of the plot drivers was the road trip the sisters take across the US, this was very much a character focused story. The youngest sister, Olivia, is the narrator and we spend a lot of time going through the constantly churning thoughts in her head. It was easy to forget that she’s so young because of how much responsibility she places on herself to support her sister and family. She’s a natural people pleaser and helping others find happiness is what brings her joy but that does mean she carries a lot of weight on her shoulders.

I thought the author wrote about the complexity of sister relationships really well. It’s easy to forgive and let go of hurts but it’s also easy for resentment and anger to grow internally. Olivia is constantly optimistic and looking at the bright side of life but she also questions her role in the family especially when her sister doesn’t seem to appreciate her despite being able to so easily show happiness to others. She’s the perky kind of happy and she channels a lot of her energy towards her sister, Ruth, whom she keenly watches for signs of worsening depressive states. I couldn’t help but think that Olivia was one of the most genuine and endearing characters I’ve come across in a while. What I also admired about her was her determination to follow through when she sets her mind to something, but also how driven she was about her dreams of becoming a National Geographic photographer–not once did she question her ability in that respect and I loved her assuredness!

“It’s hard to understand someone when they don’t understand you. But trying, whether or not they understand you… well, I think that’s what love is. And loving them is what matters.”

In contrast, Ruth’s depression meant she was constantly tired, irritable and as her mental state got worse, so did her ability to interact with and ‘tolerate’ others, but especially Olivia. I do wish that we could’ve got Ruth’s POV as it would’ve given the story a bit more depth and made it more impactful. That said, as someone who’s a sister and who also suffers from depression, reading this got pretty tough and sad at times. I could relate to Olivia’s worries for Ruth but I could also relate to Ruth’s state of mind. The author handles the mental health topic very sensitively and does a great job presenting what it’s like to live with depression while also managing to highlight what it’s like to live with someone who has depression. She writes about the topic in a very accessible way that creates understanding while also showing that there is no ‘template’ for what depression looks like and signs may present themselves differently (even when you think you know exactly what those signs are).

Overall, while I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a light or happy read it was hopeful and realistic. There’s no path or journey that will suddenly make everything perfect and will make the bad days disappear for good but it’s important to keep trying because the good days will come and it will be worth the effort.



enter the giveaway ➡️ HERE

Is Breathing Underwater on your TBR or have you already read it?

8 thoughts on “Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: Breathing Underwater by Sarah Allen

  1. I love the idea of this- using a scavenger hunt to combat the depression her sister is going through. I’m so glad she handles the depression well also as a writer and how she portrays it.

    Beautiful cover too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really liked the concept (and execution) too! The author did a really great job handling things sensitively. Also, the cover is definitely what caught my eye in the first place and now that I’ve read the book I love it even more 😍


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