Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

by Tashie Bhuiyan
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, YA
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication Date: May 4th 2021
Source: ARC received for review
Star Quotient: ★★★★
Kiss Factor: ✷✷✷✷

Counting Down With You is a book I wish I had as a teenager because I recognized so much of a young myself in the protagonist, Karina. Debut author Tashie Bhuiyan brings her engaging voice and her Bangladeshi background, making this story of a young woman learning to face her fears and fight for her happiness a fresh one. There's so much I adored about this story and I won't go into all the details, but I hope you give the book the recognition and love it clearly deserves.

The story opens up with Karina (or Myra to her family), a Bangladeshi-American teenager, bidding her parents farewell at JFK. as they go off on a one-month holiday to Bangladesh. Though she will miss her parents, she's also looking forward to a respite from the intense pressure and scrutiny of her parents. Karina grew up with strict rules from her traditional Bangladeshi parents and as expected, that hasn't been good for her mental health. Though Karina dreams of majoring in English, she is being forced to focus on the sciences so she can get into a pre-med program. It was hard to watch this young woman deny her dreams especially as her passion for the subject was a tangible presence in the book. 

Her parents being away provided not only some breathing space for Karina, but it also provided an opportunity to imagine a life in which she's not catering to her parent's expectations of her. I felt so much for Karina and undeniably, I was outraged at her folks even though what she faced in this book is very much the reality of many kids who grow up in South Asian communities. I did respect that the author made Karina someone who still really loved her parents. Those complicated feelings were beautifully handled. I also really appreciated how Karina's anxiety was at the forefront of Counting Down With You. Mental health is typically a taboo topic in South Asian communities, so I'm happy that South Asian teens will be able to see open discussions of mental health be normalized through books like this one.

I was glad that Karina had a wonderful support system in the form of her Dadu (her grandmother) and brother, as well as her best friends, Nandini and Cora. Karina and her Dadu's relationship was so gentle and loving. Her grandmother was kind and responsive to all of Karina's feelings. I loved how much respect they had for each other and what solid pillars they were for each other. The friendships were also terrific. Cora and Nandini were Karina's number 1 hype-girls. The bond between these girls was just the positive influence that Karina needed in her life.

I hope I didn't make Counting Down With You sound like a bleak book because it was far from it. The softness and cheeriness of the book come from the adorable fake-dating romance between Karina and Ace, the resident bad-boy that her teacher asks her to tutor. Turns out though that Ace is much more than his bad-boy reputation. He was a total giant teddy bear and it was super cute just how into Karina he was. They had great chemistry together and I really loved watching them open up to each other. Ace had his own fair share of struggles that he went through in Counting Down With You, but no matter, he was always there for her. I mean the boy is into astrology, buys her cheesecake and coffee, and is also willing to buy her all the books her heart desires every week! How is that not the most precious? Their romance really captured what first love and crushes can be like as a teenager and I had a huge grin on my face while they were being all cute and cuddly! There are obviously some tense moments for readers because we know Karina's parents would absolutely disapprove of their relationship, but Tashie Bhuiyan balances those tense moments with the swoony ones nicely.

Counting Down With You was just as wonderful and heartfelt as I was hoping it would be. I'm crossing all my fingers that Tashie Bhuiyan will write stories for some of the side characters in this book. I'm not ready to say goodbye to them just yet.

CW: emotional abuse, anxiety

Relationship disclosure: None

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