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Library Journal Review
Two boys, two boards, and a roiling surf. It might sound like heaven, but it doesn't work out that way in this engrossing new book from noteworthy Australian author Winton (Dirt Music). The narrator, Bruce Pike ("Pikelet"), is an awkward young teenager in the isolated coastal town of Sawyer when he befriends a troublemaker named Loonie. Riding the waves together (often at the expense of school), the two strike up a friendship with a freewheeling older man named Sando who, they eventually discover, was a surfing champion now living off the beaten path with an embittered American wife--herself a leading snowboarder waylaid by serious injury. The gurulike Sando leads the boys on to ever-riskier surfing venues, and when Bruce finally chickens out, he's left behind to launch a damaging affair with Sando's wife. The ending seems a bit rushed, as Bruce looks back over his derailed life, and why it got so badly derailed is not entirely convincing. But Winton is pitch perfect in capturing (but not exploiting) adolescent angst, and he describes surfing and the sea so thrillingly that even nonswimmers will want to plunge right in. For most collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/08.]--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
This slender book packs an emotional wallop. Two thrill-seeking boys, Bruce and Loonie, are young teenagers in smalltown Australia, circa the early 1970s. Their attraction is focused on the water--ponds, rivers, the sea--but they do little more than play around until they fall in with a mysterious, older man named Sando. He recognizes their daredevil wildness and takes it upon himself to teach them to surf. As the boys become more skilled, their exploits become more reckless; narrator Bruce (nicknamed "Pikelet") has doubts about where all this is heading, while the aptly named Loonie wants only bigger and bolder thrills. This mix of doubt and desire intensifies when the boys make a discovery about their mentor's past. Surfing isn't the only dangerous game in town. As Sando's attentions and favor flip-flop from one boy to the other, the rivalry between the two, present from the beginning, grows stronger and more sinister. Sando's American wife, Eva, becomes more of a presence, too. She walks with a limp, has plenty of secrets of her own and becomes increasingly involved in Pikelet's life, in ways that even a 15-year-old might recognize as not entirely appropriate. Winton's language, often terse, never showy, hovers convincingly between a teenager's inarticulateness and the staccato delivery of a grown man: "So there we were, this unlikely trio. A select and peculiar club, a tiny circle of friends, a cult, no less. Sando and his maniacal apprentices." The language manages to summon up both the uncertain teenager and the jaded adult: "It transpired that I was not, after all, immune to a dare," Pikelet tells us at one point, with both the breathtaking unawareness of the boy and the irony of the man. Told from the perspective of the narrator's present life as a paramedic, Breath aims to recapture a long-passed episode in a boy's life and show how this shaped the man he grew into. The story contemplates what it means to be less ordinary in an era when "extreme" sports hadn't even been recognized. (The fear of being ordinary is one of the terrors that drives these daredevils to push themselves ever further.) The author of 13 previous books, Winton is well-known in Australia and should be here. He touches upon important themes, of death, life, breathing and its absence, while looking dispassionately upon the relentless pursuit of thrills, pleasure, sex, status: the mundane obsessions of the ordinary and extraordinary alike. David Maine is the author of Fallen; The Book of Samson; and, most recently, Monster, 1959. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Review
Adult/High School-This novel transforms the dangers of surfing and thrill-seeking into a powerful metaphor for the transition from childhood to adulthood. Bruce "Pikelet" Pike and his friend Loonie, both 12, are looking for a way of life different from what home and school offer them. Living in a small, working-class town on the west coast of Australia in the 1970s, they turn to surfing as their escape. At first, they manage little beyond paddling offshore on flimsy boards. But everything changes when they meet Sando, an aging hippie-guru with a love of sports and danger. He takes the boys under his wing, first by letting them store their boards at his home and later by encouraging them to chase after increasingly dangerous waves. Ordinary life becomes boring and colorless to the boys when compared to the magic they feel when blasting through the churning water. The surfing sequences are beautifully and excitingly described, giving an easy hook to an otherwise emotionally complicated novel. Jealousy enters the relationship when Sando takes Loonie on a surfing tour through the Pacific Islands, leaving Pikelet behind with Sando's bitter wife. The two bond through their pain at being left behind and question the place of thrill-seeking in their lives. Their friendship takes a sexual turn, making this novel best for more mature teens. Told as a retrospective tale, Winton's story mixes the frenetic excitement and confusion of adolescence with the perspective and wisdom of adulthood, making this book a unique reading experience.-Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Book Review
Sun, surf and the '70s Down Under provide the backdrop for the story of a boy's awakening through rough sex. Paramedic Bruce Pike and his partner answer a medical emergency call at a suburban home. In a bedroom crowded with rock-star and hot-chick posters, Bruce finds the body of a 17-year-old boy who appears to have committed suicide. But Bruce, a middle-aged dad, knows better, and the narrative turns back to his adolescence to explain how he knows. Australian author Winton (The Turning: Stories, 2005, etc.) offers a tight narrative notable for its empathetic characters and effectively spare use of shock. Growing up in the tiny outback town of Sawyer, Bruce is besotted with swimming. His quiet, orderly parents don't dig his friendship with surf-and-diving whiz Loonie, a daredevil one year older than Bruce. Even less do they cotton to Sando, the hippie surf-stallion who becomes the boys' guru and guide to All Things Wild. Discovering that Sando had been a star of sorts at the sport of hanging ten, they worship him even more as he takes them farther out to higher and higher waves. Equally compelling, in a more fearsome way, is Sando's squeeze, blonde, scornful, tight-bodied Eva. She was once famous, too, the boys find out, a Snow Goddess skiing champ. As Loonie and Sando dangerously bond, Bruce falls for aloof Eva. Her tour of the mysteries of love includes introducing him to her dangerous fixation on auto-asphyxiation for maximum erotic kicks. So when paramedic Bruce examines the body of the 17-year-old suspected of killing himself, he blames thrill-gone-wrong sex. Bruce has been there, done that and emerged wiser, world-weary and chastened. Period details like Eva's Captain Beefheart and Ravi Shankar records add verisimilitude, and Winton handles youthful angst like a hipper John Knowles. Lyricism empowers this stoner rite-of-passage saga, which also conveys a timeless pathos. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.