Ali: Hello, Sarah! It’s so lovely to meet you. Congrats on the release, and thanks for the chance to talk about Breathing Underwater. Could you take a moment and introduce yourself?
Sarah: Hello hello! Thank you so much for having me, it’s a pleasure! I am originally from Utah, and the oldest of eight kids. I’ve also had some experience living in San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas, and DC. I got an MFA in fiction from Brigham Young University and now I’m getting a second MFA in poetry from the University of South Florida in Tampa. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I could first read, and since those days when Ramona and the Pevensies were some of my best childhood friends! My other obsessions are things like David Attenborough documentaries, Broadway music, anything with caramel, Pixar movies, and Colin Firth. I’m excited to share Olivia and Ruth’s journey with you all!
Breathing Underwater’s blurb begins with “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.” Tell us more about that, if you would, please!
I started writing this book during a time in my life when so many of my loved ones, best friends and my family, were going through some very hard, tender things, including some serious struggles with mental illness. I was desperate to find a way to help, and the answer to what I could do seemed to be…not much. So I wrote. I wrote about a girl struggling to learn how to help her sister, and learning that loving her and accepting her for who she is really was enough. I learned so much about myself along the way.
My little sister is the dearest person in the world to me, and my life would be empty without her. Who are Ruth and Olivia? What is the dynamic of their sibling relationship?
Ruth and Olivia are two sisters on a cross-country road trip that will change everything! Olivia is twelve, and the younger sister, but is fiercely protective of and loyal to her sixteen-year-old sister Ruth. She can sense what Ruth is feeling, and would do anything to help her. Ruth loves Olivia just as much, but is also coping with serious clinical depression that seems to be getting worse and worse. On this journey to the ocean, they learn about accepting themselves, and each other.
The two sisters are on a quest. What’s the importance of the time capsule they buried?
The time capsule is full of memorabilia from an easier time. A time when Olivia and Ruth were young kids and totally in sync, and being there for your sister seemed so simple. Now both of them are growing up, and that growth comes with some serious challenges. Especially for Ruth. For a while now, Olivia has struggled knowing how to help her sister, and get back the closeness they used to have. The road trip back to the memories they buried seems like the perfect opportunity for Olivia to remind her sister of what they used to have and what they meant to each other. And find the new ways they still mean everything to each other.
In your opinion, what is most important in any story, the journey or the discovery?
What an interesting question! Maybe this is the poet in me coming out, but I think the real answer is that they are really the same thing! In other words, the most important part of a story is what the characters discover about themselves through their journey, whether they ultimately achieve the external goal they set out to accomplish or not. They may not discover what they originally wanted to discover, but in the best stories, over the course of their journey, characters discover what they need to discover.
Finally, is there any mental health charity or awareness program you support?
There are so many good ones! I think the National Alliance on Mental Illness does amazing work.
Thank you so much for having me here, I am honored to share Olivia and Ruth’s journey with you!
Title: Breathing Underwater
Author: Sarah Allen
Genre: Contemporary, Middle-Grade
Release Date: 31 March 2021
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.
About Sarah Allen:
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.
Connect with Sarah Allen: