Content Warnings >>>
How can a book make you feel so giddy and emotional at the same time? Keep reading if you want to find out!
“You’re kind of wonderful, you know that?” I add unthinkingly.
Before I can fumble over my misstep, his grin becomes impossibly wider. “You’re not so bad yourself, Ahmed,” Ace says before he checks over my shoulder—for Dadu, probably—then reaches over, taking my hand in his, and squeezing.
ONE – Fantastic friendship bonds! Karina, Cora and Nandini were truly the best and their interactions made me so happy! The group-chats excerpts in particular were *chef’s kiss*.
TWO – Karina and Ace, you beautiful souls. I adore you. Ace was adorable and I’m so grateful that teenagers get to read a romance novel with such a sweet love-interest! Sure, he definitely enters cheesy territory sometimes – which is not my personal preference, but I’m an adult, so who cares? It wasn’t written for me – LISTEN : it’s contemporary YA, and I’d rather have a bit cheesy but oh-so-cute lines than toxic masculinity bullshit in there. *throws hands* KARINA AND ACE MADE ME SMILE SO BIG, OKAY? Reading their story made me feel hopeful and so giddy, really. I remember when YA was filled with passive aggressive, toxic and possessive love interests so I’m not about to complain because Ace is the sweetest. On the contrary, I’m all for raising teenagers’ expectations because y’all deserve to be treated this way. You do. There’s no reason for the bar to be so low, my god. Not to mention that Karina calls him out when he’s being too much, and it was actually hilarious, so. Icing on the cake, there’s explicite consent, and I can’t even explain how much it means to me.
THREE – The anxiety representation made me feel seen and honestly? It means the world to me. The way Karina was trying out different coping mechanics felt so authentic because really, aren’t we all?
All our damned life, it seems
Ace reaches for me again but falters halfway. “Can I please touch you?”
Another sob tears its way out of my throat, and I nod. I need something to ground me. He wraps his arms around me, and I bury my head in his chest, crying.
FOUR- The exploration of privilege and cultural/religious differences : This section has been written with white (and non Muslim) readers in mind, because I’ve seen some of them complain about the representation and I mean, excuse you??? Who the fuck gave you the right? As I’m white myself (well – I’m actually biracial, but I’ve been benefiting from white privilege my whole life, so. In regards to the subject at hand, I’m very much white) and not Muslim, it would be incredibly fucked-up to insert myself in intracommunity conversations so please believe me when I say that I’m not policing opinions from ownvoices readers here. Only some of y’all “liberal” white people who somehow came to believe that they could pass judgment on ownvoices representation.
First, I’ll admit that I was hesitant about Ace being white and rich, because we see too many portrayals of brown – and often, Muslim – girls magically “being happy” thanks to a white boy, and I don’t care for this rhetoric. To frame white people as any kind of saviors is offensive on so many levels, dear god. Before I proceed any further, let me stress that it is not what happens in Counting Down with You. Secondly, Tashie Bhuiyan, the author, is Bangladeshi-American and Muslim, and what we’re not about to do – especially as white people, what is wrong with you?? – is police ownvoices stories. I’ve seen how Muslim authors are held to a higher standard than white ones, and it breaks my heart. Admittedly, Ace’s point of view can be very privileged at times, but Karina calls him out on it – and he actually listens. She states clearly that she’s in no need of saving! Yet she’s fighting to find her own path, and it’s fucking hard, okay? So if she does need help getting there, who can blame her? We all do! As I’m not Muslim, I’m certainly not about to judge how the representation was handled, but we can’t ignore the double punishment many Muslim women face when they relate their experiences. As Amna Saleem writes in It’s Not About the Burqa – an anthology of essays written by Muslim women that I highly recommend reading, “The willingness of white racists to use our community’s problems as ammunition makes it incredibly hard to criticize it without feeling like a traitor. Muslim men often insist we brush any wrongdoings, such as abuse or domestic violence, under the carpet for the sake of the community, and both the Muslim and the feminist in me is outraged when that happens. But I’m also not willing to see my community assaulted by a barrage of racism. […] We are stuck between two sets of people who try to use us as pawns, then get angry when we don’t oblige.” I definitely recommend reading reviews from Muslim readers – you can start with Chai’s beautiful one. It wasn’t all doom, though : despite the frustration and anguish caused by her parent’s conservatism and sky-high expectations, Karina makes it clear how rich Bangladeshi culture is, and how her parents are not representative of all Bangladeshi-American parents living in the US. People of color, again, are not a monolith, and acting like they were only serve white racists’ rhetoric.
“I need you to understand this isn’t something you can fix for me, Ace,” I say softly. […] “I’m not a princess waiting for a knight in shining armor to save me.”
FIVE – Family can be messed-up, but it can be beautiful, too : at its heart, this beautiful novel deals with love, what it means to be loved – is it unconditional? How are we supposed to feel like we belong when we realize that this love comes with so many parameters we never really control? Are we worthy of it? As someone who has been masking her whole life – but it’s a conversation for another day, when I’ll be braver – it’s something I’ve struggled a lot with, especially when I was a teen/a young adult. Adapting oneself to people in order to be accepted is so damn exhausting, you know? It’s better now, but my journey towards self-acceptance is still rocky, sometimes. Yet there are people in our lives who will support us no matter what we choose, and those people are invaluable gems. In Counting Down with You, Dadu, Karina’s grandma, is one of them. I can’t write this review without talking about her, who is hands down the best character in the whole book. The way she supports Karina put tears to my eyes – several times – and Counting Down with You wouldn’t have been the same without her. I love her so much. I also can’t express how happy I was to see Karina and Samir – her brother – slowly open to each other and get closer. Sibling bonds are just so special.
“Don’t ‘Ammu’ me,” she says to Baba. “Tell me you understand. If for some reason you don’t understand, I’ll pack my bags and come home with you and Farah so you can also live with a parent that shames you for your choices. Is that what you want? I can start packing now.”
Bottom Line: if you like YA Contemporary, I can’t recommend Counting Down with You enough.
About Counting Down with You
Author : Tashie Bhuiyan | Publisher : Inkyard Press | Genre : Young-Adult Contemporary | Pages : 464
A reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy. How do you make one month last a lifetime?
Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.
Karina is my girlfriend.
Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.
T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?