She is a winding cosmos, bleeding and bursting into night. She is a dream. She is dead.
River has just lost the one thing that matters most to him—Nia—and all she’s left behind is a pile of scribbled love notes detailing their past and a pin-holed map planning out their future. Hopes and dreams confined to one dimension now that she’s gone and River’s too afraid to leave his hometown, crippled by the same anxiety that’s plagued his mother for as long as he can remember.
But after a strange encounter with the only girl he ever loved a week after laying her to rest, River, armed with nothing but her map and his memories, decides to finally leave and never look back. And with the help of a pair of eccentrically named siblings as well as a mutt with three legs, he sets out to do the very thing Nia always knew how to do better than he ever could—live.
From the moonlit beaches off of Florida’s east coast, to the forests of Mississippi, to Bourbon Street, Cadillac Ranch, and the Arizona desert, River is faced with not only Nia’s ghost but his own and he learns that in life there are no accidents, only miracles.
“In that moment something shifted […] I couldn’t tell her that she wasn’t just my girlfriend. That she was the tether keeping me strung here. She was the moon against my tide. A constant push and pull. She was my gravity.”
Breathing Ghosts is the story of River, who’s stuck in a rut. River’s home life is less than ideal. His step-father is an abusive alcoholic and his mother, a once free spirit, has turned hollow and afraid, a shell of her former self thanks to her husband who not only hits her, but her son as well. Crippled by his mothers fear, River is afraid to break the habit of his monotonous life: Work, school, repeat. His only salvation is his girlfriend, Nia.
Nia is a whimsical, artistic character, who encourages River to get out of his life and see the world the way see does. Nia, due to her own less-than-ideal home life, wants to get out of her small home town and have experiences. The good and the bad.
When Nia tradigally dies so suddenly, River’s whole world is turned upside down. After yet another blow up with his step-father and running into trouble with the men his step-father conducts his business with, River flees. Armed with nothing but a backpack stuffed with clothes, stolen money, mementos of his relationship with dead girlfriend and the map she spent hour and hours pouring over, River decides to flee and take Nia up on her proposal for an adventure after all.
Hindsight is a huge theme in Breathing Ghosts as after Nia dies, River replays their conversations and memories in his head and wishes he would’ve taken Nia up on her offer to drop everything and leave instead of letting his fear of change stop him. With an incredibly descriptive narrative, the reader joins River in his hallucinations of Nia, leading the reader to question weather or not she was truly there as River is determined to see her at every stop in the map.
Considering Nia dies within the first few pages, the author did well in continuing to develop their relationship through the use of jumps in time, pre and post Nia’s death, allowing the reader to see how they interacted and give us more insight into Nia’s personality. Though easy to follow, due to the heavy themes of abusive parents, death and illness it’s a quick but heavy read.
Breathing Ghosts, which started out as a story of a boy chasing the memory/ghost of his recently deceased girlfriend, turned out to be a journey of self discovery and finding ones self which River finally achieved after letting two annoyingly persistent twins, Carter and June, who were on the run from their own terrible home life too, join him in his mission to experience everything Nia wanted to.
The reason I gave this book only three stars is because although River runs away from home, travels to all these “islands of misfit toys” accompanied by Carter and June, it still seems to me like not a lot happens. I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m used to reading more plot based stories, action packed books with huge exciting story lines that a story of this scale seems dull to me.
Don’t let my three stars put you off, if you think this story might interests you then go ahead. I thought the writing style was very good, descriptive and enticing in parts, but for me, there was just something lacking.