With the new normal of COVID-19, I think that most people have started to think about what is really important to them and how to make their own best life. You can choose to be an optimist or a pessimist. It isn’t always easy to think positively, but it is an active decision that takes effort. When you are quarantined and have to work harder on friendships, you come to realize who your true friends are. In a lot of ways, that is what Just Breathe by Cammie McGovern is about.
On the outside, this book looks like it is about a friendship between a young girl searching for friends and a popular boy stuck in the hospital with complications from cystic fibrosis. The beginning of the book mainly focuses on their budding friendship and David’s health. It is eye opening the challenges that can confront a kid with CF. Jamie is a volunteer at the hospital and is one of the only people trying to just take David’s mind off of his illness. His parents won’t talk about what is really happening to him, won’t discuss his fears of death, his friends from school don’t visit much, and when they do, he downplays his issues. Jamie comes in an watches old movies with him and gets him to do origami. Their friendship is touching and needed by both of them. That said, I was completely annoyed when David started trying to disobey the hospital rules and the fact that he dragged Jamie into it. Regardless, I was enjoying this part of the story.
Then the book started to deal a bit more with Jamie and her issues. Jamie has severe depression. Her father killed himself and she was the one to find him. She had been hospitalized for trying to kill herself. She is back at school, but nothing is quite the same, especially after she had lashed out at her “friends” the previous year. So in some ways, Jamie is wise beyond her years. She knows that the goal in life is happiness, not money. I laughed out loud when they started talking about hygge. (Had a child in a production of Frozen, Jr. and that song stole the show) Hygee tells you to “live your life as it is.” We could all use that reminder from time to time.
The reality is that not a lot of books deal with depression well. I’m thrilled to see more health issues being covered well in books, but this was one of the rare times to see depression covered with so much care. I wish that mental health was something that more people were able to openly talk about so there were less stigmas attached to it, especially during COVID. There are genetic factors as well as environmental factors and having a mental illness doesn’t make you any less than. Ok, getting off my soapbox.