The Air We Breathe by Christa Parrish is the most recent book Bethany House Publishers sent me to review.
It was a quick and mostly engrossing read, but I honestly can’t come up with a whole lot to say about it. The book is divided into chapters that each follow a different character in one of two years–Molly in 2009, Hanna in 2002, Claire in 2002, and the same Claire in 2009. It’s clear from the get-go that their stories are interconnected somehow, but it takes most of the book for the connections to be explained. For what it’s worth, I made the biggest leap well before the author explained it, so that made it sort of a letdown when Parrish finally spelled the connection out for me.
I had trouble accepting the underlying plot structure of the book. Hanna was out with her father when a horrific event occurred (I won’t say more than that for fear of ruining some of the surprise!). While I know events like this do occur, it was handled in such an understated way. It was simply part of everyday life for Hanna and her mother. But I felt like I needed it to be focused on a bit more–for someone to say, “Whoa, that is a really awful, unexpected thing! Let’s talk about it a little bit!” Hanna goes through counseling and has a chance meeting with a woman (Claire) who has lost both of her children in a car accident. The two have an immediate and inexplicable bond until another crazy, unbelievable event occurs. The resolution of the book depends on another chance occurrence, which was once again hard for me to swallow.
The relationships are what make this book, but I found even those to be a bit shallow for my liking. The bond between Hanna and Claire is beautiful. Claire is a Christian, though she is struggling with anger and doubt stemming from the accident that killed her, children, which I wanted the author to delve into more. However, this is the basis of the relationship they build, and it was cool to see how a child sought out someone to answer the deep questions she had. Molly and her mother had a lot of tension between them, walls that had grown thicker and thicker through years of anger, and I really wished that had been addressed more fully. Molly has a sweet friend named Tobias, and I liked watching their relationship develop throughout the pages. All of the characters were likeable and believable, which made me want to keep reading to find out what happened to them.
As with other Bethany House books I’ve reviewed, I was pleasantly surprised by how understated the Christianity was in this book. It didn’t try to beat you over the head with religion, but it was definitely an important theme in the book simply because it was an important part of the lives of several of the characters. I think including Christianity in that way will be instrumental in breaking down the barriers between “Christian fiction” and mainstream or literary fiction. That said, the writing itself in this book was nothing to write home about, as they say, and I’m not sure it would succeed outside of the comfy niche of Christian fiction.
I didn’t dislike this book, but I can’t offer much to strongly recommend it either.