Catching Air – Neda Alaei

Norwegian title: Å fange luft

Happy New Year everyone!

Have you all had a good Christmas and New Year celebration? We’ve enjoyed ourselves in my family despite COVID still being an unwished-for visitor. I’m starting my new year by reviewing a book I read last year, in November to be rather precise, and yeah well I’ve been reviewing like a slowpoke all fall…Will have to work on that for the upcoming year. Without further ado; the synopsis is borrowed from Goodreads and translated by me:

I disappear in your arms,

Shrinking, almost disappearing completely,

The only thing you can catch is air.

Samia is no longer invisible but her friends at high school don’t need to know everything. They don’t need to know about Kristoffer her nerdy best friend. They don’t need to know that Samia kinda doesn’t know how to give a hug. The last thing they need to know is that Samia’s mother wants Samia and her to be best friends, that she hides the key to the bathroom, and doesn’t let Samia sleep alone. How many lies can Samia keep track of?

Catching Air is a story about a claustrophobic, clammy, and suffocating mother-daughter relationship. A story about how hard it can be to break free and become your own person.

Catching Air is Alaei’s second book and I know that authors talk about ‘the difficult second book’ but Alaei has kept the same class as with her previous book and again she swept me away into a world I have nearly forgotten being 27 years of age. I love how Alaei can bring me as a grownup back to a stage in my life that was almost 10 years ago and I’m able to recognize the feelings I once had that the characters in the story are experiencing. Everyone has had to have a difficult or awkward conversation during their teen years and most of us have attempted to find our place within a group of friends. I really enjoyed how Alaei portrayed the difficult conversations, feelings, and urge of belonging in this book. She takes the reader with her into something that in retrospect might seem so easy and yet when it was yourself who was in the situation it seemed so difficult. This is something that takes true skill and Alaei has again proved that she possesses this skill to a high degree in my opinion. She uses a language every reader can understand and reason with and I think this is what I enjoy the most about Alaei’s writing. She has again given me a reading experience where I can sit back, get lost, and truly enjoy the story. Even though this book takes you back it also made me appreciate that I’m done with that period in my life, haha.

In this book, we meet Samia who has felt invisible for a long time but upon starting high school stuff is changing for her. Yes, her mother is still an utter nuisance but she’s starting to get friends at school. Friends who aren’t her long-time best friend Kristoffer. Samia, like many teenagers, wants to fit in and everything gets tangled and confusing in her quest to prove that she fits into the gang. She puts away things that have previously given her happiness and is trying to adapt to a new way of thinking and behaving. On the home front, these new ways of thinking and behaving become increasingly more difficult to adhere to because Samia’s mother isn’t like other moms. All this makes it difficult for Samia to find her own path but that is what I believe is so amazing with this story. Samia struggles but then when she is given the chance to figure things out for herself things start to happen. This is where I believe Alaei really proves her skill as an author because she portrays this journey without making it seem extravagant or overly dramatic. It is presented in a way that resonates with the normal person on the street so to speak. I often find that the defining moments in a character’s life can become a tat too much which can ruin a beautifully built-up story. Samia’s story is beautifully balanced which makes it so easy to get lost in it and to remember how difficult it can be to be a teenager in a modern world.

Catching Air was one of my top three reads in 2021. If you haven’t read this one or Alaei’s previous book, This Isn’t Us, I strongly recommend that you put them on your reading list for 2022. They’re both YA books but they’re YA books that resonate with the older readers and frankly, I believe that grown-ups need to read YA books from time to time.

Published: 2021

Genre: Young Adult

Theme: Friendship, family, growing, learning

– The Book Reader

Book Cover

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