Book: Breathless
Author: Lurlene McDaniel
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, republished in 2010
ISBN-13: 9780385734592 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0385734592 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0440240167 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0440240166 (Paperback)
Related website: (publisher)
Language level: 5
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Said to be for ages 12 and up, but I would say 16 and up
Rating: 0 stars (NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Any books donated for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
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McDaniel, Lurlene. Breathless (published in 2009 by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc., New York City, NY). Seventeen-year-old Travis Morrison lives in the southern Alabama town of Alexander with his parents and fifteen-year-old sister Emily. He loves the water and is an ace diver on Robert E. Lee High School’s swimming team. His best friend is Cooper Kulani, and his girlfriend is Darla Gibson. On the first day of the summer before Travis, Cooper, and Darla’s senior year, they and Emily, who likes Cooper and whom he likes, are at a local lake. Travis attempts a dive into the water from a rock, but one of his leg bones cracks while in midair. Hospital tests reveal that he has a rare form of cancer, and the doctors must amputate his leg, ending his diving days. Over the next year, he undergoes several rounds of chemotherapy, goes into remission, and then has a relapse which requires amputation of the other leg. As things get worse, his parents refuse to sign a “do not resuscitate” order, and when all other options here run out, his nurse mother plans to take him for experimental treatments in Switzerland. However, all Travis wants to do is end it all, so he asks Cooper to take him out to the lake so that he can have an “accident” in which he will drown. He tells Darla about the plan, and Emily also finds out. What will happen? The story is told in alternating chapters by the four young people.

I probably would never have picked this book up, but I was in a discount bookstore which was having a sale of four books for $2.00. I already had three and needed one more. I initially chose this one because it said, “Lurlene McDaniel began writing inspirational novels about teenagers facing life-altering situations when her son was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes….Lurlene McDaniel’s novels are hard-biting and realistic, but also leave readers with inspiration and hope.” I like inspiration and hope, but when I saw what the actual subject of the book was, I put it back down. McDaniel writes, “What intrigues me about the subject of euthanasia is the ethical dilemma it poses.” The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data gives one topic as “Assisted suicide.” However, my curiosity got the better of me to see what McDaniel had to say about it, so I went ahead and bought it. I’m sorry that I did. Now, a decent book for teens about death and dying might have a good purpose, although the sheer number of them being written is somewhat disturbing, but whether this one is good or not is doubtful. Furthermore, the purpose of Home School Book Review is to review books from a Biblical worldview, and according to a Biblical worldview, euthanasia and assisted suicide are ALWAYS wrong. Period. End of discussion. Lest someone object that there are “Christians” who promote such things, just remember that not all people who call themselves “Christians” necessarily have a Biblical worldview.

Sometimes people try to justify “euthanasia” by citing examples of individuals in terminal situations and then asking if there’s no hope of recovery why not just let death take its natural course. I understand that, but that is NOT euthanasia, which always involves causing someone to die in one way or another. “Passive euthanasia” is like what they did to poor Terri Schiavo, withholding food and water basically to starve a comatose person to death. “Active euthanasia” (also known as “mercy killing”) and its blood brother “assisted suicide” involve introducing some element which actually brings about death or hastens it. Neither is just “letting nature take its course.” I don’t pretend to know what Travis was going through, but I’ve known others who were going through what he did and have been encouraged by how they handled it. When my 79-year-old grandfather was diagnosed with end-stage Hodgkin’s disease, he chose not to receive treatment or any heroic measures but to let nature take its course. Similar situations existed with both of my parents in their final illnesses. When the doctors said that there was nothing else that they could do, we let nature take its course. I get that. However, what they and we did NOT do was to starve them to death or to bring in a Dr. Kevorkian clone with a lethal cocktail of chemicals to “put them out of their misery.” I admit that sometimes there may be a fine line between the two ideas, but there is a line.

Well, if the book doesn’t present a Biblical worldview, what kind of worldview does it present? Let Travis himself explain. “…None of us truly knows what we’ll do when the circumstances become so overwhelming and complex that we can’t even tell right from wrong…or when something that’s considered wrong morphs into something right and your mind determines that what once was the rule is not written in stone. This is what happened to me. I thought I had standards. I believed in my absolutes. I did for most situations. Then I didn’t. As time went on, my world turned gray and my absolutes became murky. Right and wrong dissolved into what I had to do.” I don’t know what Lurlene McDaniel’s personal beliefs are, but the book comes across as presenting a relativistic humanist worldview with its situational ethics. One blurb says, “Lurlene McDaniel tackles a controversial subject, probing the issues of personal choice and quality of life.” Whenever we start making decisions based on “quality of life” rather than the Biblical “sanctity of life,” we are heading towards the slippery slope. After all, Adolph Hitler convinced Nazi Germany that the Jews’ “quality of life” wasn’t sufficient enough to keep them around. It is interesting that Travis checks out websites from “death-with-dignity” and “right-to-die” groups, when most of them basically promote the idea not just of letting people die in peace but actively killing them off, just doing it “mercifully.” He also cites euthanasia programs in Holland, Switzerland, and Belgium, but more and more evidence is coming from those places that people are being put to death, sometimes against their own wishes, simply to put them out of their misery and lessen the expenses on the family just because someone decided that their “quality of life” wasn’t good enough.

Aside from the topic, there are several other objectionable items. The writing is certainly “hard-hitting” with language to match. Emily says that Darla “doesn’t have the best reputation.” Why? Darla herself later explains that she had sex with Bud Tucker in eighth grade and he spread it all over middle school. Do our teens need to be reading this kind of stuff? Darla’s father says that she has “T*ts for brains,” Twice Darla is described as having big “b**bs,” and there are a few other street-language type of references to her figure. Also, Cooper’s mother makes money by prostitution, and on one occasion when Cooper is driving Emily home, they have to stop so that he can save his mother from a couple of “Johns.” This is supposed to be “inspirational”? A few years ago, this sort of writing would have universally been identified as lewd and lustful. Travis calls his dad’s boat “bad-a**” and says that his coach doesn’t like to hear the boys “pi** and moan” (all the words in which I use asterisks are spelled out in the book). There is no actual cursing or profanity, but several “polite near-vulgarisms” (crap, sucks, kick butt) and references to swearing occur. While most reasonable people seek to discourage underage drinking, Cooper is pictured as often drinking vodka and beer and being partially drunk. And Darla’s dad frequently hits both her and her mom, and is otherwise abusive. Inspirational,huh?

Then, there is the role of religion. The Morrisons are a church-going family. “When you grow up in the Deep South, belief in God is embedded in your DNA.” Travis and Emily have church enrollment cards from nursery school through high school. Emily prays for Travis to be healed, goes to church and says “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison,” and lights candles there for Travis, but when he gets worse she becomes doubtful and seems to give up on it. Darla says that she believes in God, but Cooper doesn’t and even calls God a fraud. In general, the picture of religion that I get from the book is something very weak and compartmentalized, almost nothing more than a crutch rather than a real, life-guiding principle deeply rooted in people’s hearts. Is Breathless thought provoking? Obviously, since it was intended to be. Is it interesting? It might be, especially to people whose minds are rooted in this world, although I don’t see what it could hold for those who “sorrow [not] as others who have no hope” (2 Thessalonians 4:13). Is it inspirational and filled with hope? My first reaction is to say, “In a pig’s eye,” but I’ll rephrase that to say that I did not find it inspirational in the least. In fact, I found it rather depressing and filled with despair. My conclusion is that it is merely a piece of propaganda for euthanasia/assisted suicide, and as such I cannot recommend it.

SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t want to know what happens in the end, don’t read any further, but I have to deal with the ending to complete my review. Travis doesn’t get to carry out his plan. He has a seizure and a stroke and is taken to ICU where he is hooked up to machines, something he didn’t want. In the next to the last chapter, he dies early in the morning at the hospital. If the book ended there, I might partially reconsider my judgment. But there is a final chapter. All the other chapters identify who is speaking—Travis, Cooper, Emily, or Darla. However, this last chapter is simply headed, “My final words on what happened on June 25, 2:55 a.m.” In it, some unnamed person tells how he or she sneaks into Travis’s room and shoots him full of insulin to bring about his death. It concludes, “I know what I did and why I did it. Am I a killer, or a deliverer? I believe I am an Angel of Mercy. Who’s my judge?” Well, for Bible believers, the answer is simple. God is the judge, and God has already revealed His judgment against all who take human life without His express permission (it’s called murder–read Revelation 21:8). It is quite odd that MacDaniel cites two Bible examples in the very beginning of the book, those of Abimelech in Judges 9:52-56 and King Saul in 1 Samuel 31:3-4, both of whom asked their armor-bearers to kill them. Neither of these examples makes her case. Each instance (along with every other example of suicide) records the tragic end of a sinful life caught in a downward spiral resulting from evil choices. Nowhere does the Bible give any justification whatever for euthanasia or assisted suicide.

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