When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.
After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.
Description taken from Goodreads.
Counting Thyme is, without a doubt, one of the best middle-grade books I’ve read this year.
Personally, I think that grief like this is hard to write well in middle-grade, in a way that resonates with adults, young adults, and middle-graders. Part of the problem is that there are so many ‘disease books’ out there now, and often times, it can seem like it’s written only to follow a trend. I consider myself uneasily impressed by these kinds of books, but this debut was completely different.
There are so many different factors that came into play, but Melanie Conklin hit all the right notes with this book.
The writing was spot-on. I loved reading from Val’s point of view. Her explanations of New York City were fun to read about. She was precocious but also very much a middle-grader, and she was resilient in the quietest of ways. She’s sweet, but she’s also selfish. She wants her brother to get better, but she also wants to just live her life. In short, she was an incredible protagonist and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her and her family relationships.
One of the most surprising aspects of this was how Conklin used the relationships between the characters to make statements about stereotypes and clichés. I read a lot, and I’m tired of mean girls, of misunderstanding parents, of uncool adults, of unsupportive siblings.
Conklin takes a bite out of each of these things to shape Thyme’s perspective, but as the book goes on, she comes to learn that there are people under those stereotypes. Two of the people that come to be Thyme’s friends are labeled as popular girls, but they’re not the way Thyme initially thinks. Very little is as it appears to be in this book, and I was refreshed by the character development I found here.
Ooh, and the writing. It was relatively simple, for one thing. There aren’t a whole lot of frills on the way Conklin presents her story, though there are undeniably a few. For the most part, however, the writing was perfectly simple and sweet and sad, and I loved every word of it.
A note about the font and design of Counting Thyme is that when I read a novel, the lettering is important. It contributes to the voice of the novel, and in the small details, it actually changes the emotion of it. Kudos to whoever designed it, because from the very beginning, I loved the feeling it gave off.
And a little bit about plot: in the middle, there’s not a whole lot of it. There’s enough for the story to go on, but the pace drags a little toward the middle of the story. Something to keep in mind. I don’t think this the kind of realistic fiction that action/adventure people will be interested in.
Overall, this is completely my kind of middle-grade. I love Melanie Conklin’s writing, and I’ll definitely be following up with her books in the future. Counting Thyme was what I was looking for, and the complex characters, genuine voice, and sweet writing wrapped it all up into a book I’ll be recommending to anyone who loves middle-grade contemporary and realistic fiction. 4.5 stars.
ALSO. I’ll be having Melanie Conklin over on the blog for Tweens Read August, so stay tuned!
pg count for the hardback: 300