Review of Kelly Kittel’s Breathe
Review By Jennie Robertson
When reviewing a book, I ask myself such things as: Was it an enjoyable read, Did the plot make a logical progression, Are the characters believable, Is the information helpful? Having read Kelly Kittel’s Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict, the question foremost in my mind is, “How dare I say anything at all about this family’s huge tragedy?” I wish I could just cry with Kittel and tell her how very, very sorry I am that this happened to her.
The details are plentiful, raw and vivid. Kittel remembers every single thing that happened at this horrific period in her family’s history. The story is compelling and suspenseful, and that suspense is certainly necessary to keep you reading a story so filled with tragedy: Kittel’s toddler son, Noah, was killed in an accident and nine months later, a second son, Jonah, was stillborn. On top of that, her formerly close relationship with her in-laws turned hostile, her marriage was strained, and, ultimately, she and her husband ended up taking their obstetrician to court.
That telling this story was cathartic to Kittel, there is no doubt, but what does it do for the reader? Kelly’s cherishing of her children, remembering the curves of their cheeks and the fluttering of their eyelashes and their weight in her arms, has changed my enjoyment of my own children for the better. I am relishing their childhood more, despite frequent frustration. I treasure moments and details more, their coziness beside me, their chatter at bedtime, their songs and jokes. The most important role of the book, I believe, is that it memorializes two people that the world would not know otherwise, Noah and Jonah Kittel. If only for them, one should read Breathe.
It is a testament to Kittel’s strength as a writer and her integrity as a person that she tells her story in such a way that I can imagine her sister-in-law’s motivations when she is sometimes brusque, rude, aggressive, hurtful; I can trace the line of tragedy and hardship in Cody’s own life—mothering an already troubled teen who is then scarred by tragedy, a painful and costly lawsuit against her husband that colored her perception of medical lawsuits in general. These tragedies aren’t on a par with the deaths of two children; they are nonetheless very weighty and life-changing. It is generous for Kittel to allow me to feel sympathy for both herself and her adversary.
Breathe does end on a hopeful note, with the births of babies Isaiah and Bella into the Kittel family, bringing comfort and joy with them.
Breathe is a book that reads easily and quickly, but the sadness lingers for a long, long time. Do read it, but steel yourself to face unthinkable sorrow. I think Kittel describes it best herself:
“A memoir about grief and family conflict may not be the story you feel like reading; Lord knows it’s not the story I felt like living…telling the story of my sons is the last thing I can do for them besides carry their cells to my grave. My story isn’t always pleasant, though it has many joyful moments. And it may not always be believable, because truth is stranger than fiction. But if you need a kindred spirit to help you untangle the weave of your own undeniable grief or family drama, know that I wrote this for you.”
Kelly Kittel is an author and a mother. She’s had 13 pregnancies and has five living children, her best work beyond compare. She lives with her husband and their three youngest children on Aquidneck Island but her favorite writing space is in their yurts on the coast of Oregon. She has written many notes to teachers and has been published in blogs, magazines and anthologies. Her first book, Breathe, A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict, was recently awarded the IPNE Book of the Year and Best Narrative Nonfiction Book and was also an award-winning Honorable Finalist in the Readers Choice International Book Awards. She can be found at www.kellykittel.com.
Book Giveaway: Kelly loves to meet with book groups. Be the first book group to invite Kelly to meet with your group to discuss Breathe and she will send your group one free copy of Breathe. (Kelly will visit in person in RI or Southern MA or by Skype if you are located outside of this area.) Contact Kelly through the comments section on her website.