cover image Holding My Breath

Holding My Breath

Sidura Ludwig, . . Crown/Shaye Areheart, $23 (270pp) ISBN 978-0-307-39622-8

Ludwig's nicely observed debut, a coming-of-age tale, often shies away from the powerful themes it raises. Born in 1952 to a close-knit Jewish-Canadian family in Winnipeg, Beth Levy dreams of becoming an astronaut, an ambition partly inspired by stories of her late uncle, who died before Beth was born but left behind his fascination with the stars. On Beth's first day in elementary school, her widowed grandmother dies, and Beth's mother, Goldie, assumes responsibility for Goldie's younger siblings, who become like older sisters to Beth. Teenage Sarah is beautiful and restless, and yearns to be an actress or a singer. Carrie, a withdrawn seamstress overwhelmed by private tragedy, encourages Beth to follow her passions, although Beth's parents expect her to live out a quiet middle-class life in Winnipeg. The drama is understated throughout; crises occur, but have little influence on the steady pace of the narrative. Issues such as anti-Semitism and adolescent cruelty surface briefly and are quickly dropped. The result is a charming, if less than courageous, performance. (Aug.)