Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala

Posted August 21, 2013 by Brin in Reviews / 0 Comments

Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly CupalaDon't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala
Published by HarperTeen on January 3rd 2012
Pages: 299

Joy Delamere is suffocating.
From asthma, from her parents, and from her boyfriend, Asher, who is smothering her from the inside out. She can take his cruel words, his tender words . . . until the night they go too far.
To escape, Joy sacrifices her suburban life to find the one who offered his help, a homeless boy called Creed. He introduces her to a world of fierce loyalty, to its rules of survival, and to love—a world she won’t easily let go.
Set against the backdrop of the streets of Seattle, Holly Cupala’s power­ful new novel explores the subtleties of abuse, the secrets we keep, and the ways to redemption. But above all, it is an unflinching story about the extraordinary lengths one girl will go to discover her own strength.

Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala is a very intense novel. It is about a girl called Joy Delamere who runs away from home to escape the confines of an abusive relationship. Joy’s life has always been sheltered and protected. Growing up with a severe form of asthma, her health scares have made her parents very protective of her. Her older brother was always her support but now that he is away at college he wants to escape the role that he was cast in.

Joy meets an older boy called Asher who at first seems like the perfect boyfriend. He is very rich and seems to want to shower Joy with gifts and attention. This attention soon turns nasty though. Asher is a very controlling individual and the torture that he inflicts on Joy is difficult to read about.

After a chance encounter with a homeless boy, Joy sees no other option but to run away from home. She takes to the streets of Seattle and this is where the story really begins. Joy seeks out the young street musician who once offered to help her escape her precarious position. It is a testament to how bad her relationship with Asher really was that life on the streets seems like the more viable option.

However, Joy, being completely inexperienced, is a target for the more dangerous element. After a couple of near-misses with a drunken, violent homeless man, Joy runs into Creed, the boy she has been looking for. Although at first Creed encourages Joy to return to her life, he takes her under his wing and into his ‘family’. Santos, a young street beggar with a pet ferret and May, a prickly younger girl, round up this family and they soon welcome Joy into the fold. Renaming herself ‘Triste’, Joy soon gets used to her new life, though danger always seems to be lurking close by.

They take shelter in an abandoned house and at first everything seems almost normal. They scrounge and scavenge for food, and Santos shows Joy how to beg and steal. However, this family is in danger of falling apart. May has a hard time seeing anything of worth in herself and is in danger of falling back in with a pimp who offers young homeless girls ‘protection’. Even Santos is hiding something. He disappears at night and returns in the morning with a haunted look in his eyes. Creed, who has been their protector, cannot keep them from getting hurt and it is not long before they lose their shelter and May and Santos drift away, leaving Joy and Creed to fend for themselves.

After a tragic event, Joy is forced to confront her past and is in danger of losing Creed, whom she has begun to care very deeply for. She will need all her strength in order to overcome what she has been running from.

This book was very hard to read. The emotional abuse that Joy suffered through, the dangers the young kids faced on the streets – all of this made for a harrowing read. Joy was a great main character. Realistically flawed and at times weak yet hiding an inner reserve of strength. I also absolutely loved Creed. What a kind and caring young man he was. The lengths he went to in order protect his friend was awe-inspiring. May and Santos were perhaps the most tragic characters but that made them the most interesting to me. Their stories were absolutely heartbreaking.

The only real criticism I have is the ending. It seemed to be out of place and lacked a sense of realism with everything being tied up neatly and happily for all concerned. Given the severe circumstances these kids faced, I just couldn’t buy that everything would end up going so well for all of them though perhaps the author Holly Cupala was trying to promote a sense of optimism and hope. Nevertheless, it rang a little false as the rest of the novel did not shy away from showing the brutalities and struggles of life on the streets. This was still a thought-provoking read though, one that I would definitely recommend.


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