When troubled Taylor Truwell is caught with a stolen car and lands in court for resisting arrest, her father convinces the judge of an alternative to punishment: treatment in a juvenile psychiatric correctional facility. 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, her therapist, and vicious fellow patients. But even as Taylor struggles to hold on to her stubborn former self, she finds herself relenting as she lets in two unlikely friends-Margo, a former child star and arsonist, and AJ, a mysterious boy who doesn’t speak. In this striking debut, Laura Lascarso weaves together a powerful story of anger and self-destruction, hope and love.
OPINION: 4 STARS
This is one of those books that takes a different sort of look at not only family dysfunction but coming of age and figuring yourself out. Though Taylor is adamant that there is nothing wrong with her, and she doesn’t belong at Sunny Meadows, and in some respects she is right, there is also such a deep rooted anger in her that there’s plenty of reasons why the place can help her. Still, Lascarso creates a beautifully dissonance between the two, of true more easily recognizable and quantifiable mental problems with that of anger and the effects of not so stellar parents. Watching Taylor navigate through all this and learn to trust people is what makes this book, standing it out against other similar books in a great way. Rich in character development and rapt with emotions, Counting Backwards is definitely not just another psych ward book.
Taylor has such a deep love for her mother, even through the anger and disappointment, you can’t help but not only feel for her, but understand her as well. Stuck with a drunk mother after her father walked out on them, and harboring an unending amount of anger at him for it, but also at her mother who is too weak to overcome her alcoholism, it’s so easy to understand why Taylor not only acts the way she does, but thinks the way she does as well. Even when she wants to curse and scream at her mom, however, it’s also clear to see how much it hurts her to do it, and how hard it is to stay strong in taking a stand against her mom. Add in the harder to pinpoint issues with her father, that hint at simply a conflict of personality but end at something much greater, and she is a force of a mess that will drag you in. Determined to escape from Sunny Meadows, and not completely caring about who she might hurt in the process, there is a selfishness to her that goes far to develop her character. Her path is a heartbreaking one, yet a stunningly well done one as well, and she is definitely a character readers won’t easily forget.
Given the length of the stays in Sunny Meadows, both Taylor and readers get to know several other characters very well. From clearly not totally right in the head Charlotte, who is happiest when she’s coloring and sees the world in a different sort of beautiful way, to mute but intense and perceptive A.J., Lascarso has built each character vividly and individually. Adding in some romance, yet having it be far from the focus, she has crafted a realism into the book that shines. Though possibly coming off as a bit overdramatic at times, given the situation and the overall play out of the book, it’s easy to fall into this one and not want to put it down. With strong writing, and a well designed high security psych unit, the attention and effort put into this book shows easily. Intense at times, but sweet at others, this one is raw in all the best ways. Taking a different path to recovery and therapy, and pulling in some unique elements, Counting Backwards will capture readers.
Source: ARC gifted
Reading level: Ages 14 and up
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 14, 2012