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 You was such a warm joy to read, and it left me with something luminous bubbling bright within my chest. It’s a charming and aching story with a quietly furious heart, a story that would have given me a mirror as a teenager, and now at twenty-two, pried something open in me that had been shut for a very long time.
Counting Down with You pulled me tenderly towards my younger self, and reading it, I could so easily put myself back into the picture of it: that tremulous age when what there is of you feels too heavy to bear but too weightless to have its own gravity, the familiar keenness of helplessness and words crawling back inside your throat even as you thought them—a child’s desperate urge to be seen, to be adored, as who they are, as who they want to be, not as some rarefied version that they ought to be—and the terrible, slowly-dawning realization that perhaps there is no such thing as unconditional love, only love that seizes and weighs and measures before it finds you worthy. And something else too, that sharp, glittering edge of defiance, always like flint, a spark away from fire.
I can speak autobiographically to the conflict that resides at the heart of the story which is, perhaps, why the novel landed very heavily within me. Like Karina Ahmed, I wanted to pursue a career in literature instead of one that is empty of passion in medicine, and like Karina, my parents were quick to snuff out that dream like a flame pinched between two fingers. My parents did not understand why I would waste my high school diplomat in mathematics and chase after such an unpractical pursuit, and I struggled for language to explain that a career in books fit into the contours of my heart like nothing else did, that I could not conceive of doing anything else. It was the first time I put my feet down in front of my parents, and it laid me open to a world where I might decide to stand and find the ground beneath me visible and solid.
It was, by no means, an easy decision: my parents’ murmurings of skepticism—their silent disapproval—had a way of cutting me open, and it almost bled me out of what scraps of resolve I’d defiantly managed. Like Karina, I was seventeen, and I felt like a gulf lay between me and my parents. I remember that whole year as an open wound; I felt raw and tender all the time, like if you touched me, my whole body would start throbbing. I longed for my parents’ approval, I longed to find whatever combination of words that might bridge that gulf, that might make my parents understand the hugeness of my desire. Even now, as unspeakably grown up as I feel, I still do.
Counting Down with You channels all those feelings with startling acuteness. I loved the author’s warm, energetic, almost fevered attitude toward her characters. She sees her characters, and wants them to see themselves, and to be seen by those they hold the dearest. She gives Karina a net of support to break her fall: her sweet, kind grandmother and her two enthusiastically supportive best friends. The fake-dating-to-lovers romance between Karina and Ace—which, hilariously, begins when Karina, an unrepentant bookworm, reluctantly agrees to be Ace’s girlfriend only after he offers to take her to a bookstore and let her go wild with his rich-boy credit card—is chokingly sweet, and Ace’s disarmingly silly romantic gestures simply set too high a bar to vault for romance. Ace’s fragile vulnerability and fundamental decency, which he is used to hiding behind the thin veneer of an irritating smirk, a black leather jacket, and a carefully crafted “high school bad-boy” persona, was also touching.
All in all, this is a cracking debut—a story lit up like a beacon, a stirring invitation to fearlessly release your dreams into the world, to let them grow, and stretch wings, and soar.
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