cover image Breathing Room

Breathing Room

Marsha Hayles. Holt/Ottaviano, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8050-8961-5

Set in 1940 at a sanitarium in Loon Lake, Minn., this first novel from picture-book author Hayles (Bunion Burt) is an evocative piece of historical fiction. Thirteen-year-old Evvy Hoffmeister has tuberculosis and feels abandoned by her family when she’s sent to the sanitarium to be cured. The cold nurses, strict rules, mind-numbing routines, and endless bed rest are dispiriting for Evvy and her roommates: kind Beverly, glamorous Pearl, and defensive Dena. “Trying to stay alive at Loon Lake felt like it was killing me already,” says Evvy. Nonetheless, the girls find strength in each other and discover creative ways to bring cheer. Evvy bonds with a new roommate and a warm nurse, but the beginning of war in Europe and the constant deaths in the institution keep the patients under a dark cloud. Evvy’s strong, emphatic narration gives voice to her resentment, isolation, and determination. Hayles’s sympathetic characters and detailed account is complemented by historical documents and photos throughout. Readers will feel plunged into the book’s intimate—claustrophobic, even—setting and immersed in Evvy’s daily struggles. Ages 10–14. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. (June)