I like to think of myself as a fairly tolerant reader. I try to remain open-minded, and I try not to hold prejudices toward any particular authors or genres. The bottom line is that if it’s a good book, then it’s a good book. With that said, it takes a certain set of skills to throw into question the quality of an entire genre with a single novel. I must applaud K. A. Tucker on that achievement; while I have always been well aware of the shortcomings of the New Adult genre, I have never before come so close to scorning the entirety of the category because, frankly, it is unfair to authors of merit whose works deserve an audience. But K. A. Tucker, boy, do I have a bone to pick with her.
Four years ago, Kacey Cleary lost her parents, best friend, and boyfriend in a drunk driving accident. Ever since, she has become a recluse, channeling her anger through punching bags, sex, drinking and drugs, and tiptoeing around relationships. Looking to escape her miserable living situation with her aunt and uncle, Kacey uproots her life and relocates her and her sister, Livie, from Grand Rapids to Miami. It’s a rough start to an even rougher journey, but things take a turn for the better when Kacey meets her next door neighbours, Trent Emerson and Nora “Storm” Matthews, who help her get back on her feet again.
The premise of the novel is quite promising, and I’d even go as far as to say it deviates from the norm of New Adult literature in that it is dealing with significantly heavier topics. Tucker’s undertaking of a young woman’s struggles with severe PTSD is commendable, and while Ten Tiny Breaths is in no way comparable to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five in terms of content and execution, it is refreshing to see the scope of New Adult literature stretching beyond the boundaries that many novels have chosen to abide by. However, the novelty ends there. In theory, Ten Tiny Breaths could have followed a protagonist’s journey through the challenges of adulthood whilst coping with and eventually overcoming emotional trauma. In reality, Kacey’s PTSD merely serves as an obstacle to stoke the sexual tension between her and Trent. The main problem is in Tucker’s presentation of her protagonist. Kacey’s aggressive behaviour can be forgiven on account of the fact that she is suffering from immense emotional damage. But outside the bubble of leniency that is generously afforded to her, she is a horribly condescending person. She slut-shames nearly every female character, she is emotionally manipulative, she is extremely patronizing and judgmental, and her tendency to resort to violence as an answer is both unhealthy and extremely unsettling.
Kacey’s overt fixation on Trent is tedious and dull. When she is not busy waiting for him to be her saviour, she is devoting long passages to describing his physicality. Tucker isn’t the only author to commit the crime of physical objectification, but she does it in a repetitive manner that is redundant and irritating. A reader can only read about the flecks in Trent’s eyes and his lean body so many times before growing extremely exasperated. Moreover, Kacey’s dependence on Trent to “fix” her is an unhealthy method of recovery that reinforces her inability to become “whole” without Trent’s love. For a narrative that is constructed around the aftermath of a traumatic accident, Kacey’s PTSD plays off as an awfully cheap way to add melodrama rather than a real, viable mental illness that needs remedy.
Aside from Tucker’s juvenile writing, Ten Tiny Breaths is a pretty racist piece of text. I can tolerate the fact that the minority characters aren’t given important roles because I’m used to reading white-centric texts. However, it is not okay to refer to the token black bouncer as a “brute” or Godzilla. Seeing the word “brute” used in conjunction with a black character brings to mind the famously disturbing line from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “Exterminate the brutes!” It is also not okay that the only Native American character is portrayed stereotypically as a stripper wearing feathers while doing a rain dance, and it is not okay that the only Asian character is fetishized and shamed for her acrobatic abilities (acrobatics is actually a revered art form in China, believe it or not).
Lastly, it is high time to curb stalker behaviour in male characters. Over and over, stalking has been championed and romanticized to death in New Adult novels. Many female readers will, undoubtedly, find Trent’s behaviour cute—desirable, even—which is why authors need to recognize the impressionistic abilities of books and take it upon themselves to cease the promotion of unhealthy behaviour as the norm.
During my time with this book, I actually had to set it down several times to take a breather because it was making me so aggravated. Tucker perpetuates clichés that hinder the novel’s potential, which is a shame because Ten Tiny Breaths could have been great. If Tucker had avoided basic narrative mistakes and taken a more sensitive and realistic approach toward the issues she’s tackling, the novel would have been more profound on an emotional level. Kacey’s PTSD is too easily resolved with unconvincing, apologetic therapy sessions, and Tucker makes vapid excuses for serious issues in order for Kacey to get her happily-ever-after. Ten Tiny Breaths remains a cookie-cutter New Adult novel with repetitive prose and a neatly-wrapped ending that is altogether too unrealistic and picture-perfect.