Thursday, December 27, 2012

Counting backwards by Laura Lascarso

Taylor is about to face the consequences of her actions in a big way - she stole a car, and to ensure she learns the error of her ways she has been sent to Sunny Meadows to continue her schooling and to become "rehabilitated".  The school is nothing like she expected, the smiling faces on the brochure were nothing but a lie, and it is a lie she has to live with until she has finished her rehabilitation.  The school is a mental health unit and youth detention centre hidden behind the veneer of a school for teenagers - where the male and female students are kept carefully apart, and every moment of their day is monitored by the safeties. 

Taylor hates the school with a passion, she wants nothing to do with their therapy or their rules, and she wants nothing to do with the Latina Queens who have decided that she needs to learn a lesson too.  She is in a strange place with rules she doesn't understand, and where for the first time in her life she has no way of working the system.  She dreams of escape, the chance to get away, away from the mother who promised to stop drinking but is still a raging alcoholic, and away from the father that tries to control her life and who she always ends up fighting with.  Her friendships on the inside seem to help, but more than anything she wants to get away - from the pain, from the control, and from the way her breath catches in her chest sometimes and makes it hard to breathe.

Counting backwards is a powerful and engrossing novel, one that tackles a topic that is taboo for some authors - teen mental health.  Taylor is a relatively normal teenager, but due to events beyond her control she has developed an anxiety related disorder, one that makes it hard for her to breathe.  Without giving away too much of the story, the disorder has been caused to some degree by her alcohol mother who has always failed Taylor - she promised to give up drinking and be sober, she promised to be a real mother, and she failed at every turn.  The apparent villain of the story is Taylor's father, the one who keeps pushing her to be more, to not make the same mistakes he did. 

This is a story about self discovery, about lashing out at everyone who hurts you (including yourself), and learning to work the system.  Taylor is a broken character, damaged by years of neglect from the person who should have loved and protected her, and it takes a complete breakdown for Taylor to realise exactly who she is and what she really wants.  I don't want to spoil the story too much because the journey you take with Taylor is one of discovery and self discovery, and even though not every teenager will go through what Taylor does, there is an echo of teenage transformation here - of the change from being a teenager making immature decisions, to becoming an adult and making adult decisions. 

The environment feels very real too, and after having visited a care and protection facility here in New Zealand it felt very real when Lascarso talked about the safeties, the isolation room, and the lack of privacy, and how people had to earn the privileges of privacy and personal belongings.  This is a challenging read as it is more than a little emotional, and I wouldn't recommend it for 'tweens or young teens unless they are particularly mature because they may not fully understand all the contexts - but this was an amazing read, one that I enjoyed (although I was not always comfortable) reading from start to finish.

If you like this book then try:
  • Trafficked by Kim Purcell
  • Pushing the limits by Katie McGarry
  • Variant by Robison Wells
  • I swear by Lane Davis
  • The half life of Ryan Davis by Melinda Szymanik
  • Dead to you by Lisa McMann
  • Hate list: A novel by Jennifer Brown
  • Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess
  • You are my only by Beth Kephart
  • The adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
  • Tighter by Adele Griffin

Reviewed by Brilla

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