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Learning to Breathe    by Karen White order for
Learning to Breathe
by Karen White
Order:  USA  Can
Signet, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Brenna O'Brien's unyielding father raised her to believe that there are no second chances or happy endings. Consequently, she's chosen to live a quiet and unremarkable life in her hometown of Indianola, Louisiana. She regularly accepts the dates from hell arranged by her four older sisters, despite not embracing the project of finding a suitable husband with quite as much enthusiasm as her sisters. Her passion is directed instead at managing a decades old movie theatre that's in dire need of repair - not to mention new ideas to draw in the crowds. She also collects old wartime letters, fragile communications that never reached their destinations, and ones she refuses to open. Why read the truth when imagining the possible scenarios that lie hidden inside the brittle and aging envelopes is so much more satisfying?

Brenna's safe existence, as well as her peace of mind, is shaken when old flame Pierce McGovern comes back to town to help his aging father move into a retirement home. Everyone expects a happy reunion but she's determined to ignore him; the memories he provokes are far too painful and confusing. Even so, the former childhood sweethearts constantly cross paths whether through invitations arranged by Brenna's meddling sisters, or Pierce's interest in helping her save her theatre. As old yearnings resurface so do Brenna's fears that Pierce will break her heart all over again if they allow themselves to get involved. Determined to stay true to her self-prescribed path Brenna agrees to marry another man. But when some past history, and shocking secrets surrounding old Dr. McGovern, are unearthed during demolition of Indianola's post office, Brenna and Pierce finally realize that to face their future they must first come to terms with their unresolved past.

Learning to Breathe is one of those rare books that tug at every emotion, a tender, inspiring and beautifully written story of having the courage to examine and set aside old hurts and embrace all of life's passions. White brings the small southern town of Indianola to life with her lush descriptions of its quaint streets and old southern charm. Her characterizations are also rich and well developed, particularly Brenna, whose safe and controlled life has affected her more deeply than she ever realized and who exists in an emotional limbo. Learning to Breathe is a passionate and often touching story and Karen White an accomplished and insightful author who's definitely on the rise.

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