The Art of Breathing by TJ Klune

I read a lot.  I mean, a LOT.  So asking me to choose one favorite book is like asking a mother to choose her favorite child – it’s a difficult prospect, some might call it impossible.  I have favorite books when I want to read funny, favorite angsty books, favorite sweet books, favorite suspenseful books … you get the idea.

With that being said, I have a few go-to reads regardless of the mood I’m in.  I know the books on this list will feed my soul, no matter what it needs at the moment.  A lot of the books on my favorites list have more than one mood: both angst and humor (yes, it’s possible), suspense and humor, angst and suspense, it goes on.

Right now, the book at the very top of my favorites list is The Art of Breathing by TJ Klune.  It’s the third installment in the Bear, Otter and the Kid series, and oh, the feels!  The book is written mainly from the Kid’s point of view, and it’s simply amazing. If you are into audio books, I also heartily endorse the audio of this book – but you should read it in print first so you know what is coming and when to have your tissues handy, both from laughing so hard you’re crying and from, well, crying.

Tyson Thompson, known as The Kid and previously known as Tyson McKenna, is the type of kid you want to simultaneously choke and hug to death.  He’s a genius, a vegetarian and quite the handful. In the first two books of the series (Bear, Otter and the Kid and Who We Are), he is young and impressionable, and the reader watches him try to deal with everything life has thrown at him and his brother Derrick (Bear to his friends/family). The reader gets to know Tyson through Bear and Otter, but we never really see inside his head the way we see in The Art of Breathing.

When I read the first two books, I saw Ty questioning what was going on and seemingly dealing fairly well – in typical Tyson fashion, which means lots of laughter too. I liked the character of Ty and the way he seemed to be Bear’s conscience at times, but I wanted to get to know him more. The Art of Breathing gives us Ty, in spades. In this book we learn that he didn’t come through his childhood as unscathed as we might have thought.

I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t go into excruciating detail here. Suffice it to say that his poor little brain developed some coping mechanisms that followed him to adulthood – and at times they haunt him. The title of the book comes from a technique that Ty has learned for dealing with the anxiety attacks he suffers from periodically.  As someone who also has periodic anxiety issues, this really spoke to me. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack, it’s all I can do to keep breathing in and out while trying to keep my heart from beating clear out of my chest.  This is something that Ty deals with throughout the whole book, and it becomes the key to Tyson’s future in a very real sense.

We met Ty’s friend Dominic in Who We Are, and I had the feeling he would be a crucial part of Ty’s story but I had no idea how important he would be. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Dom becomes Ty’s touchstone in a way very similar to the way Otter becomes Bear’s rock. That being said, it’s not an easy road for Ty and Dom, and they have to deal with roadblocks like you would not believe.

While this book is chock-full of angst and tension, it’s also absolutely freaking hysterical in parts, just like the first two books in the series.  There is another dinner party scene that must be read (or heard) to be truly appreciated. The relationship between Otter’s brother Creed and his wife Anna and son JJ is comedy gold. The reader also gets to spend time with some characters from another book of Klune’s, and it was absolute genius of TJ to include these guys in the saga of Tyson Thompson.

At the end, we know Tyson Thompson in all his damaged, struggling glory.  He keeps thinking he’s broken and we see him wondering if he can be fixed. He’s a very real person to me by the end – actually, he’s very real to me by the time he leaves for college. TJ Klune does not sugar-coat anything, but he has such a talent for writing hope. All of the main characters (and some side characters as well) struggle mightily at times, but there is always hope. The struggles we see the characters face are real things that a lot of people deal with every day, but there is always a helping hand giving the character hope that it will all turn out all right in the end.

And that, right there, is why this book is at the top of my favorites list right now. Life is messy and sometimes it just sucks sideways.  But we can always find hope if we know where to look.

Heather Porter

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