Summary and book reviews of The Place Between Breaths by An Na

The Place Between Breaths

by An Na

The Place Between Breaths by An Na X
The Place Between Breaths by An Na
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 26, 2019, 192 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Book Summary

From master storyteller and Printz Award–winning author An Na comes a dark, intensely moving story of a girl desperately determined to find a cure for the illness that swept her mother away, and could possibly destroy her own life as well.

Sixteen-year-old Grace is in a race against time - and in a race for her life - even if she doesn't realize it yet…

She is smart, responsible, and contending with more than what most teens ever should. Her mother struggled with schizophrenia for years until, one day, she simply disappeared - fleeing in fear that she was going to hurt those she cared about most. Ever since, Grace's father has worked as a recruiter at one of the leading labs dedicated to studying the disease, trying to lure the world's top scientists to the faculty to find a cure, hoping against hope it can happen in time to help his wife if she is ever found. But this makes him distant. Consumed.

Grace, in turn, does her part, interning at the lab in the gene sequencing department daring to believe that one day they might make a breakthrough…and one day they do. Grace stumbles upon a string of code that could be the key. But something inside of Grace has started to unravel. Could her discovery just be a cruel side effect of the disease that might be taking hold of her? And can she even tell the difference?

Unflinchingly brave, An Na has created a mesmerizing story with twists and turns that reveal jaw-dropping insights into the mind of someone struggling with schizophrenia.

Winter

There are many versions of a story. Many sides and lenses that can distort, change, illuminate what is seen and unseen. What is heard and unheard. What is felt and unfelt. In the end, truth is but a facet of a diamond, a spark of ray from the sun, a forget-me-not flower seen from the eyes of a bee. What lives and breathes as reality is a perception, so who is to say what is possible and impossible?

Call it fate or simply coincidence, but the shorter version of how I found you begins like this. There was a dark speck on the side of the barren winter road that grew larger and larger as I drove closer. Expanding from a dot to a stone to a tree stump until I screeched to a halt. A few dozen feet away from a headless coat turtle-shelled on top of the snow. Both of my hands released the steering wheel and coned over my mouth. Was it a body? There was no movement. I slowly opened the door and stepped out. Had someone frozen and died overnight? It wouldn't have been the first ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. As the novel begins, An Na suggests that perception is reality. "What lives and breathes as reality is a perception, so who is to say what is possible and impossible?" What does Na mean by this? Who is the narrator of this chapter? To whom is the narrator speaking?
  2. The Place Between Breaths is a narrative told from many points of view. With Grace as a first-person narrator, what are some things readers discover or understand especially well about her? Yet, because of her first-person viewpoint, what are some things Grace cannot understand or share with readers? How do the chapters written in second- and third-person narratives affect the unfolding of the story? Discuss.
  3. An Na describes the place between breaths as "Not death. Not life. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

An Na's novel has an innovative, even clever, structure, one that elegantly, and at times unnervingly, mirrors the feelings of disorientation, the breakdown between reality and visions, that can haunt a person with schizophrenia. Linked to seasons of the year – representing past, present, and future - and utilizing varying narrative voices and verb tense, chapters overlap and at times collide with one another, as Grace - and, by extension, the reader - grows increasingly unmoored from everything she thought she knew. Some readers may grow unsettled or frustrated by this approach, but thoughtful and patient readers will recognize and appreciate this inventive and empathic approach.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Thoughtful readers who appreciate literary fiction will find much to savor in this lyrical novel suffused with beauty and terror.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Intense...Readers will feel Grace's tension viscerally, as she weighs hope against despair.

School Library Journal
Starred Review. A slim but demanding and haunting novel for readers of Beth Kephart's One Stolen Thing or John Green's Turtles All the Way Down. Grades 9 and up.

Booklist
Starred Review. Like the fog and confusion that accompany Grace's episodes, nothing is cleanly delineated, and the reader is left wondering about Grace and seeking answers long after the story has ended.

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Beyond the Book

Schizophrenia-focused Labs and Research Centers

Like the lab where Grace and her father work in An Na's The Place Between Breaths, scientists around the world are hard at work researching the causes of schizophrenia and investigating potential cures. Here are a few of the labs and research centers that include schizophrenia as one of their primary areas of inquiry:

Duke Schizophrenia Research Group
The Schizophrenia Research Group at Duke University in Durham, NC, focuses on the mechanisms of cognitive deficits in patients with schizophrenia. Research utilizes imaging technologies and studies metabolites, cognitive neuroscience, and the links between genetics and a patient's response to pharmaceutical therapies. The group partners with another research group in Singapore to ...

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