Australian writer Tim Winton is an acclaimed author of poetry, short stories, novels and children's books. His eagerly awaited and unforgettable new novel Breath is a story of lost innocence and youth, recollected in anything but tranquility. Breath is a study of the signposts of adolescence - searching for like-minded friends, resisting complacency and crossing boundaries - but also an acutely observed cautionary tale of the damage left behind by extreme behavior.

Breath is simple enough on the surface. Bruce Pike, nicknamed Pikelet, is a bored and lonely teenager, the only child of withdrawn parents in a small West Australian town. Drawn to the sea, he pairs up with wild child Loonie and they begin to spend time swimming and surfing. They share a delight in risk taken for its own sake. They are befriended by an older couple, a hippie surfer, Sando and his unhappy wife, Eva. Half guru, half cohort, Sando encourages the boys to take their fun to dangerous extremes, such as surfing in shark-inhabited waters, isolated reefs and stormy swells. But there is more menace at home: as Pikelet's relationship with Eva develops, her addiction to risky sexual behavior pushes him out of his depth. The consequences of their doomed affair linger in the adult Pike, who is scarred by suppressing urges that he once let run wild.

In a series of extraordinarily vivid scenes, Winton brilliantly balances Pikelet's vulnerability and endurance against the boundless and unrelenting forces of air and water. He excels at transitions, capturing the precise moments where surfing becomes as much a spiritual discipline as a sport or a casual affair turns into a blur of risk-taking sex. This is not an easy book, despite its brevity, but it is a stunning one and one whose visceral imagery will remain with the reader long after the story is over.

Lauren Bufferd writes from Nashville.

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