Life Sudden Changes Boldly Depicted in Debut Novel
Getting Our Breath Back
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by Shawne Johnson
Format: Hardcover, 224pp.
Pub. Date: June 2002
AALBC.com Book Review by Linda Watkins
Our Breath Back, the debut novel, by author Shawne Johnson, is not your
ordinary read. Passionate words float with a hypnotic, poetic rhythm across
the pages, and are a little tricky to comprehend at first. But once I found the
pace, I slid easily into this fascinating story of three sisters, Violet, Rose
and Lilly, who each confront various frustrations including addiction,
single-parenthood, and adultery.
Set in the funky, flower child, anti-war, 1960's, Getting Our Breath Back, begins at the childhood home of the sisters. Johnson does a superb job describing the love between the daughters and their mother, preparing the reader for a deeper look at these women and the obstacles they struggle to over-come.
Violet, the oldest, is a proper, stay-at-home-and-put-up-with-anything-wife who comes to realize how lost and weak she has become by tolerating Jerome, her "I'll stay out all night when I want to!" husband. Confused, as to where her marriage went wrong, she attempts to shut out the reality of this failure. Her emergence from the sham of her marriage is smoothly outlined by Johnson. Her precise placement of Violet's troubles allows readers enough time to fully understand how Violet rediscovered her identity, inner strength and self-confidence.
Lilly, the middle child, once an aspiring poet and former Black Panther ends up becoming a road map of purple and black bruises -- the result of too many heroin fixes. Drifting in her world of delusion she in lives at home in a room of bleakness. Not even her mother's love can bring her back. Johnson displayed extraordinary skills of timing by interspersing Lilly's voice between her mother, Rose and Violet This multi-person perspective is especially powerful in helping readers to feel the depth of Lilly's addiction and the tragedy of her lost life.
Johnson gets deeper into character development with Rose, the youngest sister. She is strong, resilient, and impressive. Rose is a self-employed artist who is raising her eight- year old daughter, Imani. She makes statues of women from stone and wood in her home studio. At times the statues seem to be watching from the shelves where they are stored. In addition to being artistic and spiritual Rose has got it going on with the finest brother in the book, Taje. But, as you well know...all is not perfect in this house of women.
Getting Our Breath Back was over all an enjoyable read. Johnson delivers a solid story, believable characters and holds your interest. It will keep you thinking about how suddenly life can change and for this I give her a great praise. My only problem was the numerous flashbacks. I found them to be annoying because they distracted my pace and slowed the story. I prefer a cleaner, crisper read. But, I will read Johnson again. I like her style...bold, raw and alive with spirit. Getting Our Breath Back is an excellent portrayal of the search for self.