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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Counting Thyme, written by Melanie Conklin. G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin. 2016. $21.99 ages 10 and up

"I went back to my homework, though I found it hard to concentrate after what she'd said. I wasn't loser bait. I just wasn't like her. I didn't want new friends. I wanted to ride the bus with Shani and have sleepovers on the weekends. I wanted to fall asleep in my own room at night, and wake up in my own house and eat pancakes on the back porch. Just because New York was new didn't make it better."

Val, Thyme's little brother, was diagnosed with cancer nine months ago. In an effort to keep the cancer at bay, the family decides to make the move from San Diego to New York where Val has been accepted into a new drug trial. Of course, they move.

Thyme is our narrator. Through her strong voice, we learn a lot about the impact that illness has on a family who will do anything to chance a better outcome for Val. She voices no complaints, although she does miss her home, her grandmother, her best friend. She knows the move is only temporary. Or is it?

Her love for Val far outweighs the longing she feels for her old life. When the treatment shows promise and her dad accepts a new job in the city, the future becomes less clear. Thyme is pleased that Val is improving, but finds that hard to reconcile with her wish to be back where everything is familiar and normal. Melanie Conklin does an exceptional job of voicing the conflict that Thyme and her sister Cori are feeling, all without ever letting go of the love and full support they give their little brother.

It's tough on families living with grave illness. Ms. Conklin expertly draws the reader in as she shows just exactly how the entire family reacts to their new reality. Not once did I feel pity; she never allows for that. I admired the positive energy that came from each family member, so eloquently voiced by the parents and felt by Thyme and Cori as they support Val through the ups and downs of the treatment and its aftermath. My heart broke as I turned page after page, wanting only to share their challenges. The book is written with humor (thankfully) and great compassion.

Though Thyme is steadfast in her belief that the family will return to San Diego, and her need to remain loyal to her best friend there, she finds herself slowly getting involved at school and making new connections, especially with Jake who has experienced grief as she has. Her uncertainty concerning her place at the heart of the family is quickly forgotten when a medical crisis arises. Family is family, all working together with hope, with strength, with love most of all.

You won't soon forget Thyme and those who love her.

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