In this sparkling and romantic YA debut, 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?
Counting Down with YouFeatured
During those days, Karina is assigned to tutor a boy in her English class, Alistair (Ace), who is struggling in her favorite subject. Although she knows her parents would not approve of her spending any time with a boy, Karina agrees to help her favorite teacher as it will also waive the public speaking requirement that counts for a large portion of her grade. As she gets to know Ace, her feelings become even more complicated and his presenting her as his fake girlfriend makes everything seem to come apart at the seams.
Karina also has anxiety that she suppresses, and although she knows she needs help, because of her family's stance, she resorts to techniques she learned from google and her friends. During the month her parents are away, Karina is bolstered by the love of the people around her and able to examine her own wants and needs in a way she never could before - but what will she do when her parents return?
What I loved: This book hit me in a completely visceral way. There were tears streaming down my face for several chapters, and I include this as a good thing, because, wow, does Bhuiyan write in a way that brings these characters and emotions to life. This book completely pulls the reader in and gives a lot to think and feel. For teens struggling under the weight of parental or cultural expectations, this book sees you. I would love to put this book in the hand of every teen who has felt the crushing weight of parental expectations and disappointments and resultant anxiety, so they could know they are not alone and that they deserve their happiness too.
The romance here was really beautiful. I appreciated the honesty, the pace, the clarity of boundaries, and constructive reactions to boundaries. All of this sets a fantastic example for how relationships and love should be. Ace is #boyfriendgoals, seriously. Their relationship, boundary setting and respecting, and truths are all stunning.
An important part of the book is the people who love and support Myra/Karina. While not everyone in her position has this, I think this support is critical. She has Dadu, who is an all-around wonderful person, her BFFs, Cora and Nandini, who cannot always understand her life but believe her anyway, Ace, and eventually her brother, Samir/Rafiq. I found the discussions with siblings to be particularly poignant (both for Karina and Ace), as in situations with challenging parents, it can feel very isolating, especially when the experience by the person next to can be so completely different. Although both situations are very different, the conversations are held beautifully and the reader sees different ways in which needed support can be provided.
Other themes in the book were also poignant, including the sexism of the way that children of different genders are treated, religious prejudices, stigma around mental illness, and the way that speaking your truth and coming out can backfire in some families (side characters deal with LGBT coming out/dating experiences). These themes would make this book a fantastic discussion starter in the classroom or YA book club.
Final verdict: Beautiful, raw, and riveting, COUNTING DOWN WITH YOU is a stunning YA contemporary about love, happiness, and the search for your own path. Highly recommend reading this one - it is a book that will touch the heart and stick with the reader for a long time to come.