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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Counting Back from Nine, written by Valerie Sherrard. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2013. $9.95 ages 12 and up

"I like how Christine spreads
her quiet words and ways
over anger and upset.

She has that rare ability to
smooth and soften
just by being.

She is the last person I expect to
tell me to stop putting
things off..."

I have read a number of other books by Valerie Sherrard and have been a fan for a while. So, I was looking forward to reading this one, too. When I saw that it was a novel in verse, I was surprised (I think it is her first) but keen to read it as I am a huge fan of stories told with incredibly careful word choice. It still boggles my mind that authors can choose the perfect way to tell a story, with little embellishment or explanation. This author does it with just the right touch.

Laren is in high school, and has been keeping a huge secret from her friends: she is dating her best friend's boyfriend...well, her ex. When they are seen together by another of their mutual friends, Laren must come clean and tell Nina. She is unprepared for all of the repercussions, although she knows it is definitely a breach of friendship etiquette:

`There are rules
for what I`ve done. Specific punishments for
crimes against friendship.
I expect no leniency.

The first day will be the worst.
I`ve had time to prepare,
to imagine what`s coming.

I`m ready."

She may feel that way, but the reality is much more difficult than she could have imagined. Laren stands tall, searches out new friends who prove worthy, and tries to adjust to the way her life has changed. She has no idea that the wheels are about to come off, and that her issues with her friends will seem minor compared to what happens following a phone call to the family home.

Her father has been hurt in a car accident, seems to be doing well, and then suddenly dies. At the funeral, she is sure that the worst is over. It is not. Her father was not alone in the car; he was with another woman. Just as Laren has deceived Nina, so her father has deceived her mother. Each member of the family deals with the aftermath in their own way, and none of it is easy.

Laren's guilt over dating Scott makes their relationship an uneasy one. Weekly counselling gives her a window for remembering the past and to begin to deal with her conflicted feelings. It is in these sessions that she settles on a way to deal with the sadness, the anger, the memories. Laren is a writer and she begins a letter to her father that helps her deal with the many issues of his leaving:

"All I know right now is that I don't want every thought I have of my father to be about That. I'm still adjusting to you being gone. That feels like about all I can handle right now."

And then later:

"Then, as I thought about the past year and all that's changed, I found myself sorting through some specific moments and memories. Nine in all. And something still settled in me as I realized that each of these had one thing in common. You  know what that was? Your hugs. I saw that, through all of the bad and sad and glad moments, my father's arms were there to protect or comfort or celebrate with me."

This is a story full of emotion, and powerfully told. There is a lot to digest for those who read it. It goes far beyond teen romance, friendship issues, family strife and the impact of a parent's death. It is definitely worthy reading. 

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