Monday, April 1, 2013

Common Book Themes: The Trauma Victim Plot
Plus some thoughts on Ten Tiny Breaths

Ten Tiny Breaths
by K.A Tucker
Read: March 2013
Published: February 12, 2013 by Atria Books (First by Papoti Books)
Source: NetGallery - in exchange for an honest review
Category: New Adult Contemporary

A few weeks ago I read Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker, and this is supposed to be a review of that book. I will get to it eventually, but first you're going to find out a little about how my brain works, and how that affects the books I read sometimes. I think many people will really like Ten Tiny Breaths, and my reaction to it may have more to do with the order in which I read certain books, than it does that book specifically. But sometimes I just cannot shut off the connections that my brain makes. 

Recently, I've started to notice that a lot of New Adult books tend to have a similar plot line and types of characters, even though their stories and characters are different (I know that sounds contradictory, but bear with me). After reading several such books recently, I wanted to talk about it. 

The story goes like this:

So there's this girl who has suffered some sort of trauma in her life, and this event has caused her to close herself off emotionally to the world. She usually has few to no friends, and is completely unaffected by guys, though occasionally she uses them anyway.

Then, as is the way of all books, something changes for her. She moves to a new place, and/or meets someone new (this new person is a guy, of course). All of a sudden, with the prodding of of this guy, she begins to wake up and slowly break down her walls.  There are various reasons given for why this guy is the first person who has made it past this girl's emotional block, although often his hotness and striking eyes are a factor. The girl futility tries to resist this guy's magical charms for a while. But there's just something about him that she can't fight, and soon she is letting him into her tightly controlled world. Of course this guy is able to wake up more than this girls' emotions. After some false starts, everything begins to seem great (or she pretends that it is), though of course as a reader you know that there's a huge freight train rushing towards the happy couple that is two seconds away from shattering their fragile calm. 

This is the part when some thing happens that destroys the couple's delicate happy. It usually involves a negative trigger for the girl's past trauma, and as a result she can no longer hide that she is doing "fine." No matter what this new plot development is, it always leads to the girl realizing that she actually hasn't dealt with her issues, she's just pushed them to the side. This train wreck always causes mass chaos and a huge breakdown between the couple. They inevitably break-up and mope about for a while, during which time the girl really deals with her issues. Eventually the girl and guy get back together before the book ends.

Does anyone else recognize that plot?
I'll admit that it is a good one, and I've enjoyed several books that feature it, some of the ones in this post are my favorites. But I think I've read too many in a row recently that it's started to make me feel twitchy. With the New Adult genre so hot right now, the story arc especially seems to be increasing in popularity. Unfortunately, if I see the same story-line multiple times in a row, it stops reading as natural, and starts to look more like a plot device. I think that's the point I've gotten to with this one. 

Maybe I'm being unfair.
I realize that I was being rather sarcastic in the description, and it's not really fair to simplify all of these books in that way. As I said, I really enjoyed the books pictured in this post, and not all of them are exactly like the outline. I don't want to trivialize any of these books, but I'm reacting to the shear number of them that are out there. 

Let's talk about some of the characters: The Girl.
I think the hardest time I have with this storyline is my ability to connect with the type of girl who is closed off to everyone around her. She is usually struggling from some form of PTSD or depression due to the past trauma. I don't want to belittle what she's gone through, or judge anyone's coping mechanisms, healthy or otherwise. I know that many people in real life have experienced horrifying situations. I get that what she feels is real to her, but that doesn't change the fact that she's popping up everywhere, and that her character is starting to seem overdone and unimaginative. Or the fact that I don't always understand her actions. Not everyone who has suffered a traumatic event acts like she does. If I'm being honest, often I just want to shake some sense into her and tell her to WAKE UP AND DEAL WITH YOUR LIFE!! Because really she's only hurting herself in the long run

The Guy.
In most of these books, one of my favorite characters is the guy the girl meets. He's almost always suffered his own share of problems and heartbreak, but I usually find him to be more approachable and relatable than she is. Often because he's a bit further along in the healing process than the girl, or he deals with his pain less hostilely. Although it's not always clear what draws the guy to this girl when she's closed off and unfriendly, I'm thankful for his role in her healing process (as well as the swoon he provides). God bless him.

So what's your point?
I am not writing this post to be critical. As I said, I really enjoyed these books, especially Raw Blue, The Sea of Tranquility and Lovely, Dark and Deep (which to be fair, are a bit different from that general plot description above). And this genre is not the only one that features this type of female character. But that doesn't change the fact that I often find her frustrating and difficult to relate to. Or that I've started avoiding books where it looks like she's going to be the protagonist, because I'm not sure I want to deal with the same story again. Watching her emotionally fall apart over and over again in different books is exhausting. Hopefully, after a break, I'll be ready to face her again, because I really do want her to find some peace. 

On Ten Tiny Breaths:
All these characters and this plot exist in Ten Tiny Breaths as well. Kacey Cleary's life was destroyed four years ago in a drunk driving accident and ever since then she's been trying to close off her emotions. When she escapes to Miami from a bad living situation at her aunt and uncle's house, she meets Trent Emerson. Trent is Kacey's sexy next door neighbor, who slowly finds a way into her heart. I really enjoyed the secondary characters, including Kacey's sister Livie and Kacey's new (and unexpected) friend Storm. I also liked that the sections of the book were broken down into the seven stages of grief, and how Kacey's journey through its pages mirrors them.

Although I will admit to having some trouble getting into this story without rolling my eyes, because I felt like I'd seen much of it before, I thought Ten Tiny Breaths got a lot more interesting as it went along. Especially when Kacey begins to deal with her past trauma. Although many of the revelations weren't a big surprise, I really liked where the book went in the last third with the description of Kacey's healing process. Trent also became more intriguing as the story progressed, and in the end I am glad that I met both of them.

Does multiple readings of similar plots or characters affect your view of individual books?
Do you ever have trouble relating to a type of character?


  1. YES! I need to read Ten Tiny Breaths because I got approved on NG, but I just don't want to. I originally requested it because I wanted something more like Sea of Tranquility..until I realized I didn't. I finally admitted that the reason I haven't read Lovely, Dark, and Deep is because I am TIRED of that story/plot. Even in Sea of Tranquility, as much as I liked it, I loved the emotional heartbreak and that came after PAGES and HOURS of angst and slow-moving-plot-lines and what-not.

    It's like Cassandra Clare. I am TIRED of Shadowhunters! I'm not even going to go see CoB (okay, that mostly has to do with the fact that I thought the trailer was lame), but also, I am just tired of the same types of characters and stories. I keep trying to read different books now, or I've gone completely off-track and have been binging on adult books. It isn't a bad thing, but YA and I are having a mini-break-up I suspect. I am so bitter about it all, actually.

    I feel like YA has exhausted its creativity because it's doing the same thing over and over again and, because of that, I'm losing interest in it. It has more potential - I just wish authors would tap into that instead of relying on supposedly best-seller formulas. I feel like when characters or plots are similar, my mind wanders and then I can't relate to a character.

    I just DNF'd Burn Bright, an Aussie fantasy that most readers LOVED and I was convinced I would too. It had so many similar elements, though, mixed in with newer ones, so I was left a little stranded and, more than that, I couldn't care for the MC at all and just discarded the book. I loved the setting and plot direction, but what's the point of reading an epic journey if you don't care about the people who are taking the journey?

    I'm going to stop ranting...I think I've gone off topic too. Anyway, I probably won't read Ten Tiny Breaths...NG shouldn't hate me TOO much...riiight? ;) Wonderful review and discussion, Lauren!

    1. I think the more we read, especially those of us who read a LOT (you read even more than I do!), the more it's clear that there's nothing new under the sun, and the harder it is to find that thing that makes a book different. Sometimes that doesn't bug me, and there are times that I like the expected. But if a story gets repeated too much, or it's a plotline combined with a character that I have trouble relating to, it starts to get really old. I actually liked what New Adult was doing at first. It started off mainly as authors self publishing, and I thought the books were taking some risks not seen in traditional routes. But now it's all getting redone again and again. This particular plotline is EVERYWHERE. I think that Contemporaries are where I personally have the most trouble with repeat plots. Not saying that speculative doesn't do it too, just that it doesn't always bother me as much there.

      I think it's smart to take genre breaks every once in a while. I hope that YA will be fresh for you again soon. And don't worry about not reading this book. Honestly, I think it's one that you can safely skip. And I agree that I need to CARE about the characters to want to read a book. I'm not as good as you at DNFing. But I completely get your struggle.

      I hope you find that elusive book soon. And that no more series disappoint you in the end. That's another topic, but its happened a lot this year. Where the final book does not live up to our long awaited expectations.

  2. Lauren, you completely hit the nail in the head with this post and I'm so glad you reflected my feelings as well. It gets tiring, to be honest. I need a break, for god's sake. This is insane. I know it sells and yes, as you kindly pointed out, the guy usually is the one who makes us swoon and is more relatable. Haha, I was just wondering the same thing by the way. I don't understand why these guys get so excited about a girl who just keeps everyone at arm's length and pushes everyone away. Hmhh..

    Anyway, the plot issues are sometimes ridiculous for me. I've seen it so many times already. I just.. What helps in my case is if there are epic characters such as Trent was in Ten Tiny Breaths. I didn't really connect with Kacey so Trent was hat allured me further on into the story. I'm glad you wrote this post and that in the end you actually enjoyed TTB. Thanks for the discussion! It's great to know that people actually do think the same as me - we're tired and we want something else.

    Siiri @ Little Pieces of Imagination

    1. I was so worried when I posted this that no one would be on the same wavelength as me, so I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one. I actually thought that the New Adult genre was new and fresh for a while. But the more books that are produced, the more repetitive it's gotten. And you're right, it's often the secondary characters and the guy that I'm reading the story for. Unfortunately, the heroine is often hard for me to connect with, or even like sometimes.

      I did like Trent. As I said, I thought he became VERY interesting as the book progressed. I saw some of the revelations coming, but not exactly how they played out. Hopefully, authors will see our plea and start giving us something different.

  3. Yes x a billion!

    I am a getting a bit sick of all these New Adult books because it seems like all the authors got together and said "Ok, New Adult has to feature a damaged girl, a damaged boy, LOTS of drama, LOTS of sex, then some more drama and then a forced happy ending."

    It feels like they're all just sticking to a formula and that formula is annoying and boring when read over and over again.

    This post is great, hun! Also, I will say that Raw Blue is a good example of NA ;)

    1. Yes. This plot has stopped reading as realistic, and started being a device to sell books. Or a formula, as you say. I know it's selling right now, but I'm hoping that others are going to get tired of it enough that we'll start seeing something new out there. I agree that Raw Blue is fantastic, but I wish it didn't feel so clouded by some of these other attempts that are more about sex and drama than about true story. Thank you for stopping by and for getting what I'm saying!

  4. Yep, I am right there with you on this one, L! I definitely HAVE noticed this storyline too. For me it's just another predicatable plot line, and like Keertana and your other commenters, that predictability is starting to get irritating. I see this "girl broken by some traumatic event" storyline not only in NA but YA and TONS of chick lit/ contemporary romance too. (Although you're right, with so much NA hitting the market these days it does seem to be the dominant story line.)

    I try to branch out in my reading when this happens. There are books out there that break this mold, and I am always on the look out for them, but I suspect this storyline will always be around because there will always be readers that cannot get enough of it:)

    Great discussion post!

    1. You're right. It IS everywhere. I actually had a part of this post where I was going to talk about it in other genres, but I thought it was getting too long. I was thinking that Me Before You actually has this girl character, though I didn't realize it at first. I also wasn't quite as annoyed with Lou and the focus of the book wasn't completely on her. The only thing about her that bugged me was her continued relationship with Patrick. UGH. I digress. She is in YA too, but again the plot is often a bit different. However, I still have trouble relating to her sometimes. Such as Mac in The Archived. Thankfully, the rest of that story was excellent.

      Branching out is key. I try to do that as well. As I said above, I think that NA WAS breaking the mold at first, but now it's not as much any more. But I'm hopeful that it will again. It's like how Twilight was so big and unique, but now similar story lines are everywhere, so it no longer feels original. Thanks for coming by!

  5. Yeah, these types of books are multiplying like crazy. The first one I read that had the vibe was Pushing the Limits, which I loved. Then, shortly after I read three more books that has the closed off girl, they got pretty tiring. (Not to mention predictable).

    A week ago I wondered what it would be like to read Pushing the Limits again. It was still good but I felt different about. I wonder what I would have thought about it if it wasn't the first NA book with the closed off female/male that helps her get back on track. Although this one does have a little more uniqueness.

    I am so tired of similar plots and characters. Read one book with it and you have read them all. Great post :)

    Side note: Some authors need to know that their MC doesn't have to be miserable to be interesting!

  6. Ah, genre burn out. Been there, done that. That's part of why I'm avoiding dystopian fiction.

    Also, I love realistic contemporary fiction, but, yes, I find the overwhelming number of gloom and doom stories (though they are generally hopeful) hard to deal with, especially if I read a bunch of them in a row. Or if I'm overwhelmed by other things going on. I find those book don't provide much of an escape then.

  7. I cannot even express how deeply I love this post. I really can't. You say it so well and I couldn't help but say "yes" over and over to my computer...thankfully I was alone. While I actually haven't read New Adult YET, that plot line is oh so common and while I have books I have adored that has that has become a bit too redundant. I want to shout at the girl too to just BUCK UP ALREADY. Really, this post is brilliant. Great job :)

    Sunny @ Blue Sky Bookshelf

  8. This is a fantastic discussion post Lauren. You did hit the nail on the head. The problem is, I think, the authors writing the same story over and over because it sells. And I'll admit, I like to read it (although I DO have to take breaks in between them because it does get old with the weak girls all the time).

    NOW, that being said, I LOVE a broken boy. He doesn't have to be mysterious, because that kind of gets old to me sometimes, but I will read a broken boy story any day because - and we've discussed this - I am always more sympathetic to the guy in the story pretty much 100% of the time. Sometimes the girl comes with her issues too (um, hello Abby Abernathy) but I tend to like her much less than the guy. I don't often feel like I need much of a break between the broken-boy stories, and I'm not sure why that is the case. I also feel like the authors are writing these same stories as well.

    The authors will continue to do this as long as we (the public) continues to buy them. And now with the pubs snatching them up left and right, I don't think it will change much.

    I think the answer is to make sure we mix up our reading really well, which I have to do anyway or I get bored. That is one of the reasons that I read more than one book at a time, because it keeps me from getting bored.

    Great post. I can't really tell how much you liked Ten Tiny Breaths from this, but I'd love to discuss. I actually ought to re-read that one. I devoured it and probably missed a ton of details.


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