Friday 6 May 2022

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Review: The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan

A photo of The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan half on a light grey, fluffy pillow case, and half on a pape blue, crinkly shirt. The book is at an angle, top left to bottom right, and has two white shrlls, a shiva shell heart, and a carved labradorite ammonite around it.

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The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan

Published: 9th May 2019 | Publisher: Little Island Books | Source: Bought
Meg Grehan on Twitter

Stevie is eleven and loves reading and sea-creatures. She lives with her mum, and she's been best friends with Andrew since forever. Stevie's mum teases her that someday they'll get married, but Stevie knows that won't ever happen.

There's a girl at school that she likes more. A lot more. Actually, she's a bit confused about how much she likes her. It's nothing like the way she likes Andrew. It makes her fizz inside. That's a new feeling, one she doesn't understand.

Stevie needs to find out if girls can like girls - love them, even - but it's hard to get any information, and she's too shy to ask out loud about it. But maybe she can find an answer in a book. With the help of a librarian, Stevie finds stories of girls loving girls, and builds up her courage to share the truth with her mum.

Written in accessible verse 'chapters' and in a warm and reassuring style, The Deepest Breath will be of special relevance to young girls who are starting to realise that they are attracted to other girls, but it is also a story for any young reader with an open mind who wants to understand how people's emotions affect their lives.
From The StoryGraph.

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I had been doing some research for the bookshop I work at on queer middle grade novels, and The Deepest Breath was one of the books that came up. It sounded so cute, so I decided to give it a go. Honestly, it's just the sweetest book of a young girl discovering her sexuality and trying to find ways to talk about it.

Stevie has anxiety, and she's scared of a lot of things. So many things. But she thinks if she can learn about the things she's scared of, they won't scare her any more, or she'll have answers if things go wrong. One of the things she's scared of is the ocean and the things that live at the very bottom of the sea, so she's so happy when her mum buys her a book on ocean creatures, and is always reading it. One of the other things she's scared of is not really understanding the way she feels when she's around her friend Chloe. She doesn't feel like it around anyone else. She doesn't know what it means, or she thinks she might know what it means, but she isn't sure. And it scares her. When she tries to talk about it to her mum, she doesn't really understand. How can she find out what this feeling is, and how to talk to her mum about it?

The Deepest Breath is absolutely beautiful! It's so, so gorgeous! It's a novel in verse, so it's a very quick read. I don't know enough about poetry to comment on the verse, really, but I can say for so few words, Grehan manages to pack a right punch. Grehan really captures the voice of Stevie so brilliantly. I'm honestly in awe of how she's managed to create this young girl's voice, her confusion and her fear, and all her experiences, and tell such a beautiful story and tell it with as fewer words as possible. It's just genius.

Grehan does a fantastic job at describing Stevie's anxiety. Her cyclical thoughts, how once she's worried about something, she can't stop thinking about it. There's a moment when Stevie's mum cries at the end of a film, but Stevie doesn't realise it's to do with the film, and she spirals. What's wrong with her mum? Why is she upset? What's going to happen if her mum isn't ok? Her mum is the one who always makes things better, so what is Stevie going to do if something is wrong with her? Grehan gets a wonderful balance of what anxiety looks and feels like, and what that experience is like for a young child; Stevie has the fears and worries of someone quite young, but experiences anxiety like anyone else.

Stevie trying to figure out her first crush for another girl was just the sweetest thing, though with her confusion, I just wanted to give her the biggest hug! She doesn't have the right words yet to describe what she feels or what she wants to say, not exactly, so her mum doesn't understand at first. Stevie feels lost, because her mum always has the answers, and now she's even more confused. But she realises that what she normally doesn't when she wants to find out more about something is go to the library. Except she doesn't really know what exactly to look for or where. I have so, so much love for Susan, the librarian who helps Stevie, who manages to find out what it is Stevie is looking for, and give her a book that makes all the difference. There's this really, really beautiful moment I can't not share.

'We pick out two books
I choose one about trains
And Susan picks out one
With two girls on the cover
Holding hands
And I hold it
And I stare at it
And it makes me feel
So many things
All at once
And for once
Every single thing I feel
Is good
And happy
And real
And true'

Isn't it just the most gorgeous thing you have ever read?! And if you take a closer look at the cover, you'll see two little girls, holding hands. Honestly, The Deepest Breath is the most sweetest book, and I am so, so happy very young people just figuring out their sexuality for the first time have this book; that this book could mean as much to them as the book Susan gives to Stevie means to her. It's stunning!

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