Book: Hold Me Like a Breath: Once Upon a Crime Family
Author: Tiffany Schmidt
Age Range: 13 and up
Hold Me Like a Breath is the first book in Tiffany Schmidt's new Once Upon a Crime Family series. It's about a teenage girl who is a member of a mafia Family that has become wealthy by providing black market organs. And it is a fabulous book. I read it for National Readathon Day, and it easily kept my attention for all 400 pages.
Hold Me Like a Breath is set in a kind of alternate reality in which federal regulation of organ donation has become so strict that most people die while awaiting transplants. This, naturally enough, opens up an opportunity for organizations that can provide organs, at least for those who can afford them. Penelope Landlow is kept largely out of her family's business, but believes that they are helping people who would otherwise die while on the transplant list. Her family, and the extended Family, worry about an act working its way through congress that might legalize people's selling of their organs, and thus change the Landlow family business forever.
Penelope leads a highly sheltered life, even by mafia standards, because she has a rare platelet disorder that means that she bruises from the slightest touch. No one can hug her. Even a simple fall can land her in the Clinic on her family's estate. She requires regular platelet transfusions, and lives a victim to her "counts". Bored out of her mind, what she really wants is to go to school.
However, when danger invades Penny's sheltered estate, she gets more of the real world than she had bargained for. She has to figure out, rapidly, who she is and what she stands for, against a backdrop of extremely fragile health. (An afterword reveals that the seed for Penny's character came from the tale of The Princess and the Pea, someone who bruises so easily that it colors her life.)
I quite like that Penny is NOT the (now) traditional "strong female." She can literally bruise from someone tickling her. When her counts are low, she can trace faces onto her skin, or pick up the pattern from a crocheted afghan. She spends her life privileged and sheltered, and when things go wrong, her anguish and indecision come across as real. But she's also the daughter of a crime lord, and she has absorbed important lessons about survival, too. She is unique and compelling.
I found the plot of Hold Me Like a Breath riveting. There were a couple of twists that I did see coming, but Schmidt's writing was so vivid that I read compulsively anyway. My only complaint was a coincidence that drove a major plot point, but even that did keep me guessing (in a "How can this be? Is this not what I think?" sort of way).
Hold Me Like a Breath also includes elements of love and longing, tricky things when you can't even be touched without bruising. I think that the darker elements of the book (secret organ transplant clinics and violent murders) will make Hold Me Like a Breath work even for those who might ordinarily shy away from romantic elements. There is a character with Downs Syndrome who plays a minor role, and who I hope we'll see again, in a more significant role, in the next book.
Schmidt's writing is filled with suspense, and digs into all of the senses, like this:
"But in my daydreams, Garrett hadn't been wearing a gun.
And now we were parked somewhere made of shadows and secrets and fear that sat on my tongue like a bitter hard candy that wouldn't dissolve.
The car still smelled like them. Their seats were still warm when I leaned forward and pressed my hands against the leather. But I couldn't see them. What if the dark decided never to spit them back out again?" (Chapter 3, ARC)
I think that Hold Me Like a Breath is a fabulous addition to suspenseful, action-packed young adult literature. Due to some of the details around the organ donation restrictions and technology, I think it falls under the banner of speculative fiction, but just barely. My only regret is that I read this one so early (nearly four months before the book's release date), because this means that it will be a long time until the next book is available. I may even want to read this one again at that time, though I do expect the details of Hold Me Like a Breath to stay with me. Highly recommended!
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@bwkids)
Publication Date: May 19, 2015
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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