Felix Catalan has a few friends but is mostly regarded as weird and is the target of bullying at school. His parent’s marriage is rocky and about to disintegrate, but they do their best. Life is fairly ordinary until a new boy turns up at school.
Bailey Hunter and his family had to leave Auckland because of his father. Bailey often has bruises he has to hide – again, courtesy of his father. To add to his life, he finds himself drawn to Felix.
As the two boys try to work out their feelings, they are also painfully aware of societal expectations.
This is another powerful novel by author Eileen Merriman. From the very first page I fell for Felix as a character. His quirkiness and uneasiness is uniquely him, while also something that most teenagers find themselves grappling with.
Outside of Bailey and Felix, the characters felt a little superficial, but the way the two boys grow as both a couple and as individuals overshadows that.
Merriman works fulltime as a consultant haematologist at North Shore Hospital. It is clear that her time within the medical world aids her writing immensely. The research she puts into her novels is immense and they are both realistic, while not hindering her narrative.
The novel tackles homosexuality and bullying – both at school and at home – and Merriman doesn’t shy away from the topics. They are handled professionally and realistically while also coming to a gritty end.
The story itself cracks along at a smart pace, and the plot kept me turning pages. The story sucked me in and it was difficult reading the final quarter of the book because of the abuse.
In saying that, the ending was a wonderful salve and was expertly handled by Merriman. It is, again, both realistic without being too clinical.
Invisibly Breathing is an intensely moving story about unconventional love, bullying, and being true to yourself. It’s an important message for our youth to hear and I have no doubt it will be of immense help to some readers. For those not directly experiencing a life like Felix or Bailey, Merriman offers reassurance and understanding.
Merriman is a formidable writer and her stories are an important addition to New Zealand young adult bookshelves.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Puffin, RRP $19.99