A Breath Away from Sleep by Edward Nubian James is a novel with promise, starting out with a lot of humor and several strong characters. The opening chapter begins with Paris Hightower as a teenager, growing up fat and feeling very insecure. She gets the courage to ask out a boy to the Sadie Hawkins Dance, and to her surprise he says “yes”. She gets dressed up for her big date and waits for her Prince Charming to arrive, but the boy never shows up. When she thinks that she had misinterpreted their dating arrangements, she goes to the restaurant they were supposed to eat at before the dance, and finds her missing date with her best friend, Butter. Paris is devastated, and after she and Butter beat up the boy, the two girls leave the restaurant together.
The story fast-forwards. Paris is now going to college and has a promising future ahead of her. She’s slimmed down and is about to meet the man of her dreams, Tyree, a rich African American man whose family owns real estate. Unfortunately, while her dreams appear to be coming true, her future boyfriend’s mother is very much against this relationship, and Paris' life turns for the worse.
While the beginning of the book focuses on Paris, the story soon turns to her mother, who has been missing for seventeen years after she tried to kill her husband in self-defense. The story now is about Ebony (Barbara) Hightower, who has made a success out of her life despite the horrible abusive past that she had to endure. She has slightly changed her name and has not been in contact with her family to avoid being found and prosecuted. She, too, meets her Prince Charming, a handsome African American man who is also a very wealthy model and heir to his family’s fortune. Her life appears to be on the verge of turning into a “happily ever after,” until she decides to take on the woman who has ruined her daughter’s life.
While this book starts on the right foot, it unfortunately takes a wrong turn. The more one reads, the more outlandish things become. While maybe another author could have used these same events and made it convincing enough to the reader, James isn’t quite able to pull it off. There are some very interesting characters, such as Tyree’s mother, Lyn Dickerson, a crazy Asian woman who seems to be a control freak, but the plot itself needs more work. A lot of what happens in the book did not convince this reader as being believable, making it difficult to fully enjoy the novel.
A Breath Away from Sleep gets two stars from this reviewer, but the author does show promise. A great cast of characters is a good start to a great novel, and with tighter plotlines, there may be a winner in James’ future as a novelist.