It is hard to remember the confusion—the anger, isolation and fear—felt during the teenage years. Almost as if one day it was reality and the next a distant dream. You forget how hard it was—forget how you learnt to cope with the mental stress and strain—and then, when it is your turn to help the next generation, you forget what made a difference. Fortunately, there are those who remember, those who know the right words. Sometimes, these people go above and beyond, and compile those words into a book. “Just Breathe”, by Barbara Utley, is one such work.
Compassionate and caring, Utley has spent years working with and observing young people as they navigate life. Being a teacher’s aide is both rewarding and thankless, but Utley used this experience to make a difference. An advocate for mental wellbeing, Utley kept the hard times close to her heart and turned them into weapons.
“Just Breathe” follows Amber Hartley as she navigates loss, relationships and family secrets. It is no secret that being a teenager is difficult, and her life experiences make an already trying time even more of a mental strain. However, sometimes things aren’t as dark as they first seem, and new relationships and perspectives can be a flickering flame in the night. Through them, Amber will learn how to fight her demons. She might even find the courage to embrace her past.
“If mirrors could talk what would they say? Would they be kinder than she was to herself?”
The characters are where this story truly shines. They are real, with their own dreams, hopes and fears. It feels as though Utley has taken a little piece of her own vulnerability and has placed them in the souls of her characters for safe keeping.
Amber is one of the most relevant female protagonists of recent times. She is not perfect—and she has her own issues—but that is what makes her so relatable. For so long, Amber has been drowning in hatred, fear and vulnerability. During the story, Amber will have to decide whether she will let the current take her or if she will swim to shore. However, while there are those offering their hands to help, it is ultimately up to Amber—she will need to look within her own heart and search for her own power.
“Her instincts still told her to self-protect, to shelter herself, to guard her heart.”
It is far too common for YA books to rely on bad boys with troubled pasts. For this reason, Marco Perini is a breath of fresh air. Determined, accepting and vulnerable, Marco is everything a male character should be. Marco is there to gently guide Amber, but never push her too far or too fast. His compassion means he can see the best of people—even when others may have given up on them. If ever there was a suitable role model for young men everywhere, it would be Marco Perini.
“She was a step closer to knowing who she was and maybe where she wanted to be…”
Utley does a fantastic job of giving hidden depth to her characters. Where the reader might form conclusions because of Amber’s perspectives, Utley is there to turn that upside down through twists and turns that no one saw coming. Throughout it all, Utley proves that even the stillest waters can have the most fathomless depths.
While the narrative is simple, it is powerfully impactful. It is a storyline that will touch hearts, and its message will remain relevant for generations to come. There are not enough quietly compassionate books in this world, and Utley has gone a long way to fill this void. “Just Breathe” is told in a way that is direct and to the point. It is easy for readers of all ages to understand, each sentence crafted with intent. Perfect for teenagers and adults with their own, “Just Breathe” is one of the must-read books of 2021.
“Just Breathe” is available to order now.
InHouse Bookstore: https://bit.ly/jb1211
Amazon AU: https://bit.ly/jb1213