Tag Archives: child abuse

Breathe: A Ghost Story by Cliff McNish

Teen Picks: Breathe by Cliff McNish

You know those book fairs that your school hosted back when you were a kid? That’s where my little sister and I stumbled upon a book called Breathe. We were suckers for ghost stories like books by Mary Downing Hahn, and this seemed like it was right up our alley. We stole it away into our bedrooms and read it under the blankets late, late into the night using flashlights. I still have the original copy we shared. I can honestly say that it is one of my favorite ghost stories. Not only is it easy to read, it is fantastically vivid and well written.

It follows the story of Jack and his mother, Sarah, a mother and son who move into a haunted farmhouse where the souls of four children are being held hostage by what is known as the Ghost Mother, a spirit that feeds off of other souls to prevent being taken away by the Nightmare Passage. The Nightmare Passage is an Inferno-esque plain of ice where a constant wind beats and batters its residents. It is where the souls of those who refuse to go (or are kept from going) to the Other Side eventually are taken.

The book is full of metaphors for abusive behavior, rape and sacrifice. The Ghost Mother tortures these poor children’s souls, feeds off of them, and even forces one of them to try to behave like a daughter. It is disgusting. Disturbing. And it’s not hard at all to hate her. The children, who are put through so much pain and suffering, do eventually find redemption and get a happy ending, thank goodness. As does Jack and Sarah. For most of the book the Ghost Mother possesses Sarah and actively abuses Jack, emotionally and physically. It’s gut wrenching to read as Jack desperately tries to save his own mother.

All in all, it is an incredible story about loyalty, fighting for the one’s we love, about the acceptance of death, and how death is not the end. I reread this book every once and a while, because boy-howdy is it a doozy. Talk about heavy. And reading it as a twelve year old? You can bet that my sister and I had some nightmares after the first time. Sheesh. But we still love it, and in fact, it still comes up in conversations sometimes. The deep and complex issues of abuse and consent, as well as life after death, the different afterlife planes, the inspiration from Dante’s nine circles of Hell inspiring the landscape for the Nightmare Passage. It is a really fascinating read. I highly recommend it. I give it a 4/5, just because it does have some pretty sensitive topics it covers.