I’m so excited to be talking about Jennifer Niven’s newest book, Breathless, with you all today!
I remember reading All The Bright Places back in 2014 (as an ARC too!) and being absolutely floored 😭 It is a beautiful but harsh book and it meant a lot to me. Jennifer has always been so kind (and remembered me after all these years ahhhh!) and I’m beyond honoured to have her here for an interview.
Hi Jennifer! It’s so lovely to have you here to chat 😍 When did you start thinking of the story for Breathless, and how long did it take to go from first sliver of an idea to published novel?
I started thinking of the story in early 2017, a few months after Holding Up the Universe was released. I wanted to write something as personal as All the Bright Places, and I kept going back to the summer I turned eighteen and my parents separated and I had sex for the first time. So all told, it took three years from inspiration to publication.
Now that you’ve published several incredible books, can you tell us if anything in your writing process has changed since you started?
I’ve always created playlists for my books, but with Holding Up the Universe I started making ones for my main characters. I also started listening to those playlists as I wrote. I used to get too distracted by the words, but now I find that writing to music helps me not overthink everything and to write more freely, and I find it helps evoke the emotion I need to feel as I’m writing.
Anything to help the writing happen more easily is a solid win, as we know 😌👌🏻. Have you ever stayed on an island like the one in Breathless?
The island in the book is actually a hybrid of two islands off the coast of Georgia—Cumberland and Sapelo. I had been to Cumberland years ago and never forgot its wild beauty. I wanted Claude to feel exiled and isolated during her summer, and fan island like Cumberland seemed like the perfect place. Very little cell service and wifi, no roads, no shops. I met my now husband on Cumberland, when I went there to write the book, and we fell in love that first day. He was living on the island then, and I would stay with him for weeks at a time and we would have adventures, many of which I wrote into the story.
Oh that sounds like an incredible place! How did you decide on your main characters’ names?
Character names are so important. They really help bring the characters to life. For Claude, I knew I wanted something strong and unusual, with a cool, gender neutral nickname. She was originally called Lou, but then I heard a song called Claudine, and that was it! In the case of Jeremiah Crew, his name just came to me out of the blue. They do that sometimes—Theodore Finch showed up like that as well. What’s so funny is that my husband has the same initials—JC. <3
Their names are both so beautiful and perfect 😩💛 Memorable! Can you tell us a secret, mysterious fact about your next work-in-progress? 👀
I’m actually working on the film scripts for both Holding Up the Universe and Breathless right now, but that’s all I can say. I can tell you that I also just finished writing a YA novel with another YA author (more on that soon), and we wrote the entire thing without discussing the plot…
This is just so exciting 👀👌🏻 We will wait (im)patiently for your next projects! And lastly! Was any chocolate harmed in the making of this novel?
Thank you so much for giving us a behind-the-scenes peek at your writing and stories, Jennifer!!
Jennifer Niven is the Emmy Award-winning #1 New York Times and International bestselling author of ten books, including All the Bright Places and Holding up the Universe. Her books have been translated in over 75 languages, and All the Bright Places has won literary awards around the world, including the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2015. The film starring Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Luke Wilson, and Keegan-Michael Key, is now streaming on Netflix. Jennifer is currently at work on her fourth and fifth novels for young adults, with number three— Breathless— coming out September 29. She divides her time between Los Angeles and coastal Georgia with her husband, kids, and literary cats.
Breathless is one of those slice of life contemporaries.
It’s a journey of losing your footing in your quiet, happy, safe life and growing up all in a rush. The setting definitely caught my heart. The island, the sea, the way Claude Henry and Jeremiah Crew could lose themselves in this seclusion from their real problems for just a summer. They lost and found themselves in each other, even though they knew their romance could only be temporary. It’s very sex-positive and honestly I found their relationship/discussions quite healthy.
Miah has a certain wildness to him — no shoes and a love of the land and a quiet separation from a life of hurt that he’s healing from. He was honestly lovely and compelling, but grounded too. Claude did a lot of growing up and getting outside her privileged perspective, and learning life is not so black-and-white, and that change won’t end her. The ending just leaves you a little 🥺💛but also with your heart full.
Thoughtful and introspective, it is a perfect summer read!
“There’s this feeling you get when you write a really good, true sentence or paragraph or scene, and it makes you feel invincible, as if you can do anything. It feels like a superpower, and in that moment no one can touch you. You’re the best there is. That’s how you make me feel, Jeremiah Crew. Like I’m the best there is.”
Thanks Penguin Teen and Jennifer Niven for the copies! Breathless came out Sept 29th, 2020.
The much anticipated new novel from international bestselling author Jennifer Niven, author of All the Bright Places.
You were my first. Not just sex, although that was part of it, but the first to look past everything else into me. Some of the names and places have been changed, but the story is true. It’s all here because one day this will be the past, and I don’t want to forget what I went through, what I thought, what I felt, who I was. I don’t want to forget you. But most of all, I don’t want to forget me.
For her last summer before college, Claudine Henry and her mother head to a remote island off the Georgia coast. There, amidst the wild beauty of the place, she meets the free spirited Jeremiah Crew. Their chemistry is immediate and irresistible, and even though they both know that whatever they have can only last the summer, maybe one summer is enough . . .
have you read any of Jennifer Niven’s books? or else tell me your favourite thing about reading contemporary!