Review: Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala

Holly Cupala Don’t Breathe a Word

320 pp.  HarperTeen (HarperCollins)  2012

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Release Date: January 3, 2012

Summary (From Goodreads): Joy Delamere is suffocating…

From asthma, which has nearly claimed her life. From her parents, who will do anything to keep that from happening. From delectably dangerous Asher, who is smothering her from the inside out.

Joy can take his words—tender words, cruel words—until the night they go too far.

Now, Joy will leave everything behind to find the one who has offered his help, a homeless boy called Creed. She will become someone else. She will learn to survive. She will breathe…if only she can get to Creed before it’s too late.

Set against the gritty backdrop of Seattle’s streets and a cast of characters with secrets of their own, Holly Cupala’s powerful new novel explores the subtleties of abuse, the meaning of love, and how far a girl will go to discover her own strength.

Don’t Breathe a Word starts off strong with an attention grabbing scene.  Joy is in the process of staging her kidnapping because she needs to get away in order to save her family, but we don’t know why she feels compelled to do this.  We don’t know why she needs to save her family.  This had me hooked and needing to read more.

Joy’s story is one that isn’t told very often in young adult literature.  She’s in a relationship with Asher, which we discover isn’t a healthy one.  Holly Cupala does an excellent job of slowly revealing the truth behind Joy’s scars and suffering.  Most YA novels about abusive relationships deal with physical abuse, so I appreciate that Holly Cupala focuses more on emotional abuse because I know it’s unfortunately a common occurrence.  Don’t Breathe a Word has the potential to help teens realize that emotional abuse exists, and like physical abuse, it shouldn’t be ignored.

As much as I enjoyed Don’t Breathe a Word, I’m also a little torn.  Joy runs away from home to live on the streets of Seattle.  While doing this, she meets a group of teen runaways that take her in.  These characters are well-developed and believable.  My issue is that I felt more connected to these characters than I did to Joy.  Part of this is because Joy purposely keeps her past hidden because she doesn’t want any of the runaways to take her less seriously.  I can appreciate this about Joy, but I would have felt more connected to her, which I very much wanted to experience, if she would have opened up sooner.  It became distracting from the story because I found myself thinking more about these characters as opposed to Joy.  I wasn’t as impressed with the ending, which makes me wonder if the reason for this is because I wasn’t as invested in Joy’s character.

Despite some misgivings I have with Holly Cupala’s second novel, I wanted to keep reading and enjoyed Don’t Breathe a Word.  It’s a compelling story, but it’s compelling for reasons I didn’t expect upon reading it.  The writing is superb, but I craved a stronger connection with Joy.


  1. I always love your honest reviews–thanks!!

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