A retelling of The Princess and the Pea? Yes, please! A YA novel filled with crime, death, intrigue and the mafia? Even better. In fact, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt has everything a good crime YA novel needs, right down to a taste of romance. All it’s missing is an accurate representation of idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), the blood disorder the main character and I both suffer from.
Penelope Landlow is the youngest daughter of an organ transplant crime family. But because her disease makes her bruise easily, she is treated with kid gloves—her family is essentially banned from touching her—so she isn’t involved in the family business until several deaths force her to survive on her own.
I had a hard time reading this story, primarily because Penelope’s ITP is exaggerated and sensationalized. At one point, she worries that the blanket on her lap will bruise her—which is not possible. I’ve been bruised by countertops, fingers, and paw prints, but a blanket is ridiculous. She hasn’t had a hug from her parents in years because they don’t want to bruise her. Schmidt presented this disease like ITP patients could break apart at the simplest touch. To me, it felt like ITP was picked because it gives the illusion that the patient is a victim, fragile and unable to do the simplest things.
It was honestly difficult to read sometimes, because Schmidt writes Penelope as weak, and it implies that everyone with ITP is weak. The way Penelope’s family treats her with kid gloves automatically made it seem like Schmidt perceived everyone with ITP as being unable to be normal—something Penelope craved. Spoiler: in the end, Penelope passes out because she has no platelets, right in the middle of her “saving the day.” I wish she could have saved the day without losing consciousness because of her non-clotting blood. Instead, she was always just the girl with ITP that everyone worried about.
Finally, one of the hardest situations to comprehend was Penelope’s treatment. She started showing signs of ITP when she was a little girl, so understandably, the doctors avoided steroids. Instead, she found results with IVIg (intravenous immunoglobulin—a type of plasma infusion). I’ve had IVIg, but when it didn’t work, my doctors tried other options. Penelope has had ITP for twelve years, and while she showed some minor results, she’s never once successfully gone into remission and no other treatments have been explored. It was unbelievable to me she had been getting IVIg infusions every few weeks for years without she, her family, or her parents asking to try something else. Just for comparison’s sake, over the course of eight months, I’ve tried four different treatments for ITP before I found one to send me into remission. It’s difficult to believe that her family would repeat the same ineffective treatment every two weeks for twelve years.
Beyond the sensationalization of Penelope’s disease, the plot itself is good! It’s a fast-paced, easy read that would appeal to crime lovers of any age. I only wish Penelope had aspects to define her besides “she bruises easily,” because ITP patients are more than bruises up and down their legs.