TITLE: Counting Backwards
AUTHOR: Laura Lascarso
PUBLISHER: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
LENGTH: 288 pages
SOURCE: Southern Book Bloggers: ARC from Atheneum
SUMMARY: (via amazon.com) In this haunting and hopeful debut novel, a teen’s court-mandated psychiatric residency prompts a change in perspective from which there is no looking back.
Taylor Truwell is a sixteen-year-old girl from Florida with a troubled past, a neglectful mother, a seemingly callous father, and an urge to flee. When Taylor is caught with a stolen car, her violent reaction lands her in court for resisting arrest. Her father convinces the judge of an alternative to punishment: treatment in a juvenile psychiatric correctional facility. And so Taylor arrives at Sunny Meadows.
Sunny Meadows is anything but the easy way out, and Taylor has to fight hard just to hold on to her sanity as she battles her parents, an intrusive therapist, and a group of particularly nasty fellow patients. But even as Taylor clings to her stubborn former self, she gradually relents to new friendships—and to unexpected romance. Sunny Meadows goes against everything Taylor stands for. But could it be the place that saves her?
REVIEW: This book was a pleasant surprise, if reading about angry teens in a psychiatric boarding hospital can be deemed pleasant. The most gripping thing about this book is Taylor. Lascarso’s crafted Taylor as completely, realistically unlikeable at the beginning of the novel. She is angry and petulant and, of course, completely devoid of blame. In her mind. Taylor is aggravating in her denial of responsibility for her actions but that’s the thing that will make most teens feel connected to her. Taylor is struggling to make sense of the hand life has dealt her. Taylor’s character progresses at a believably frustrating pace and readers will realize before she does that Sunny Meadows may actually be helping more than hamstringing her.
The other characters are equally well-crafted. While she pretends to be nothing like her father, her compulsion to run away is exactly what her father did to her. When things got too difficult with her mother, Taylor’s dad took off. He doesn’t mean to neglect Taylor, he just can’t face his ex-wife’s alcoholism and doesn’t know how to help Taylor beyond providing structure that she isn’t used to because she’s been parenting her mother for years. Taylor’s mother is seen mostly through Taylor’s memories but she is a classic codependent addict. She depends on Taylor to keep basic necessities of life available for both of them. The relationships with her parents are brutal and tenuously woven and unwoven. It is sorrowfully realistic.
The friends Taylor makes at Sunny Meadows are just as delicately crafted. Margo is the picture of broken confidence with a dramatic flair. Charlotte is endearing in her innocence and devotion to her obsessions. Victor and Dominique are the perfect combination of tough and jovial and McKenzie brings in just the right touch of spice when everyone is getting a little too “healed”.
AJ is the only character with whom I was disappointed. In truth, I found him a little more believable when he was quiet. I WANTED to like him but it was difficult for me to believe that he would have so much maturity and patience. All the people residing at Sunny Meadows are there because they have psychiatric or behavioral issues. Granted, AJ has been at Sunny Meadows for a while, but readers may still find it hard to believe that he would have progressed so much that he could be deal with Taylor’s issues as well as his own. Their relationship has some expected ups and downs but they all seem to be attributed to Taylor. IF readers can give AJ some leeway, they will enjoy the way their relationship develops.
This book reminded me of others in the same vein, which is a good thing. Cut by Patricia McCormick, Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, or The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon. Overall, this is a book that will strike a chord with readers with its truthful depiction of how we can sabotage our own best intentions and the ways in which we can crawl our way back to the right side of our wrong decisions.