Need to Breathe by Tara Staley
Claire Harper baffles doctors when she comes into the world 14 weeks early and covered with burns. Saddled with respiratory distress and misguided parents, Baby Claire needs more than incubators, oxygen tanks and Little Golden Books—she needs miracles.
She needs a very special woman named Millie Rose.
Millie died from childbirth in 1922, but she’s given a second chance at motherhood when she’s assigned to be a “spiritual foster parent” to Claire. Millie mentors her through NICU nightmares and toddler tirades, residual illnesses, sassy peers—and a dark secret behind the burns on her skin. Over the years, Millie assuages Claire’s poor health and mentors a family steeped in dysfunction
This is a book with a very unusual story line. It is about the survival and growing up of a girl born prematurely, but the difference in this story is that it is told from the point of view of her spirit guide, or guardian angel, or spirit minder, or whatever label you want to put on her, called Millie. Millie has a hard task protecting Claire as she has numerous dangerous medical conditions and a very difficult dysfunctional family. The family have health problems, money problems and relationship difficulties but the writing is not depressing and Millie’s telling of the story is amusing and warm and loving. It is not overly sentimental, but there is a lot of emotion in this book. The characters are very well detailed, and you feel you know them well, early on in the story, the elderly twin aunts are delightful full of folk wisdom and nonsense and talk of dying.
There are some truly beautiful word pictures that I loved, for example,
‘butterflies make her believe in magic’, and
‘the days are darling and dog eared, folded down so you’ll always remember…’,
‘crepe myrtle wear their flower clusters like hair dos’, lovely images.
Millie has her own problems as she died in childbirth and still misses her surviving daughter, which made me think for the first time of the possibility that even in the afterlife there might still be yearnings and fears and temptations. This aspect of the story is heartbreaking and thought provoking, however, in the next breath Millie can describe a pompous policeman very humorously as ‘walking on ego shells.’
There is a mystery and tension in the story regarding Claire’s beginnings which is played out and revealed at the end and shapes her future.
I did enjoy this book but I do have a few criticisms. The book was very hard to read on Kindle, it did not transfer too well as the format was full of spaces and half lines. Although the pace was good, the book seemed a little long for the overall plot, and perhaps dwelled on Claire’s mother’s depression and strange behaviour a little too much.
Having said all this I feel I could read this book again and enjoy it even more, and have no hesitation in recommending it as a great read.