In writing Breathing Underwater, I pulled a lot from my own experience. Things like sister relationships and the joy of road trips! I remember going on road trips with my family when I was a kid, all of us piled into our big white twelve-passenger van. (Once in an RV!) But not all the parts of the story came that easily. While I was fascinated by a lot of the things that are a part of Breathing Underwater, there were three major areas where I needed to build up the writing with lots and lots of research.
The first thing I needed to research was photography. Like Olivia, I’d spent many years as a kid reading National Geographic and dreaming of becoming a wildlife photographer. Even though I shared that interest with Olivia, I needed to learn a lot more about the technical side of things. I had to learn about f-stops and apertures, lenses and shutter speeds. I was incredibly lucky because one of my best friends teaches high school photography, and she pointed me in the right direction many times! She gave me mini-lessons in both these technical aspects, and also the more artistic side of things, like lighting and composition. Plus it was really fun to research 70s music to pair Olivia’s photos with a matching song from Ruth’s playlist!
The second area I needed to research was SCUBA diving. I’d been diving once before in an indoor pool as a teenager, but I needed a lot more background information. I had to learn at what age people can be certified, and the different pieces of equipment needed. I also watched lots and lots of YouTube videos shot by people diving at Wreck Alley, and now doing it myself is high up on my bucket list!
The final and most important thing I needed to research was mental health, specifically depression. Even in the years since I began working on this story, our understanding of the neuroscience behind depression and other mental illnesses has grown and grown. While I have my own neuroatypicalities and mental health challenges, clinical depression is not one of them, and I knew it was vital for me to represent this as tenderly, generously, accurately, and harmlessly as possible. I had many people helping me in this effort along the way, including two amazing sensitivity readers. These people, and this research, were key to unlocking many parts of this story.
This research was so much fun for me to work at as I completed this story, and I hope it’s fun for you to read. I hope you enjoy going on Ruth and Olivia’s journey with them!
(Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR))
Publication date: March 31st 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Middle-Grade
Breathing Underwater is a sparkly, moving middle grade novel from Sarah Allen, and a big-hearted exploration of sisterhood, dreams, and what it means to be there for someone you love.
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.
Sarah Allen has been published in The Evansville Review, Allegory, and on WritersDigest. She has an MFA from Brigham Young University. Like Libby in her novel What Stars are Made Of, Allen was born with Turner Syndrome.
a Rafflecopter giveaway