top of page
BREATHING Underwater.jpg

Olivia is on the road trip of her dreams, with her trusty camera and her big sister Ruth by her side. Three years ago, before their family moved from California to Tennessee, Olivia and Ruth buried a time capsule on their favorite beach. Now, they’re taking an RV back across the country to uncover the memories they left behind. But Ruth’s depression has been getting worse, so Olivia has created a plan to help her remember how life used to be: a makeshift scavenger hunt across the country, like pirates hunting for treasure, taking pictures and making memories along the way.

All she wants is to take the picture that makes her sister smile. But what if things can never go back to how they used to be? What if they never find the treasure they’re seeking? Through all the questions, loving her sister, not changing her, is all Olivia can do—and maybe it’s enough.


"In Breathing Underwater, Sarah Allen has created characters so alive and compelling that readers will root for them every mile of this moving, heartfelt journey." —Dan Gemeinhart, author of The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Breathing Underwater takes you by surprise again and again: You think it's a road trip story, then a search for treasure story, then that it's a story about the darkness of depression, then that it's a story about sisters. Finally, you realize it's all of these—and more. It's really, in the end, a love story, filled with joy and hurt and hope—and all the complexity that love brings with it.” —Gary Schmidt, Newbery Honor–winning author of The Wednesday Wars

“Olivia is an earnest narrator who effortlessly moves back and forth between the plotline and revealing and processing her emotions. . . This is an honest portrayal of a child gradually internalizing what she knows intellectually about her fragile sister. Tween readers—especially girls with older sisters—will appreciate the depth of feeling on display. A heartfelt, multifaceted treasure hunt.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This is an important story that captures not just the struggles many teens have with mental illness but also the complex and meaningful relationship between two sisters who care deeply for each other, even if they show it in different ways. . . Beautifully written, this tender novel should be read by anyone who understands how challenging navigating mental illness can be. A first purchase for all shelves; buy more than one copy.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“Olivia’s eager narrative voice makes her sound approachably younger than her years, and her account believably blends a fairly advanced understanding of Ruth’s depression, a legitimate frustration with Ruth’s self-absorption, and also an unquenchable hope. Ruth is credible in her occasional softening toward Olivia, and it’s also authentic that even Ruth’s normal teenage rebellions (she gets a tattoo in New Orleans) are magnified through the lens of the situation. It’s heartening to see a book that acknowledges the strain on a disability-shadowed sibling, and readers familiar with the experience will be glad to see Olivia firmly centered in the picture.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“Olivia's literal and metaphorical journeys in the book work well together, and Allen does a good job of showing depression's impact on an individual and a family in a realistic but child-appropriate way. The book's resolution—happy for the moment, but with no guarantees for the future—is spot-on.” —The Horn Book

bottom of page