Thirty-three year old Brenna O’Brien relies on forty-two saints and her four sisters to direct her life in Indianola, Mississippi. A victim of young heartbreak, an overbearing father and a mother who died shortly after Brenna’s birth, she chooses to channel all her energies into running the historic Royal Majestic Theatre, safely avoiding any chance of getting into another painful relationship. She humors her matchmaking sisters’ attempts to improve her social life only when she can’t find plausible excuses. When Pierce McGovern, the young man who once broke her heart, returns to Indianola to help settle his father into a community for the elderly, Brenna is unprepared for the emotions that emerge from the past. Though everyone can see the electricity between Pierce and Brenna, the two deny their feelings for each other, unable to forgive or forget past emotional wounds.
Over the years, Brenna has taken to collecting old unopened letters originating from historic battles. Afraid she might be disappointed by their contents, Brenna chooses not to open these letters but instead imagines the words and sentiments they might contain. When Dr. McGovern, Pierce’s father, comes across a box of such letters addressed to him, he insists that Brenna should be the one to open and read them aloud. Will the shocking secrets revealed in the letters hold valuable lessons for Brenna and Pierce?
In addition to the main characters in the book, there are delightful minor characters that play important roles in the story. Readers will love wise Aunt Dottie, who subtly offers solid advice though seemingly out of touch with reality in her old age. Some will shed a tear for darling Dooley, truly a “knight in shining armor.” Brenna’s quirky sisters attack life with humor and courage, their characters indelibly influenced by their sad, bitter father. Lovable, vulnerable little Timmy will steal your heart as he “learns to breathe.” The bravery exemplified by Nathan in his quest to find his brother will linger in your memory as well. Karen White’s ability to bring her characters to life is outstanding.
In parts, the storyline of Learning to Breathe is not quite believable – take, for example, the timing of Dr. McGovern’s illness and Pierce’s interruption of the wedding. That being said, I would classify this novel as a “sweet” romance, maybe even a little corny. It is an extremely likable book which fans of the romance genre should enjoy.