Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester

Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester

Publisher: Clarion Books

Publication Date: May 10, 2022

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Publisher's description

In this gorgeously written and authentic novel, Verónica, a Peruvian-American teen with hip dysplasia, auditions to become a mermaid at a Central Florida theme park in the summer before her senior year, all while figuring out her first real boyfriend and how to feel safe in her own body.

Verónica has had many surgeries to manage her disability. The best form of rehabilitation is swimming, so she spends hours in the pool, but not just to strengthen her body.

Her Florida town is home to Mermaid Cove, a kitschy underwater attraction where professional mermaids perform in giant tanks . . . and Verónica wants to audition. But her conservative Peruvian parents would never go for it. And they definitely would never let her be with Alex, her cute new neighbor.

She decides it’s time to seize control of her life, but her plans come crashing down when she learns her parents have been hiding the truth from her—the truth about her own body.

My review

I received a free copy of the ebook from Netgalley in exchange for my review. All opinions shared are 100% my own.

Verónica has dreamed of being a mermaid since she first went to Mermaid Cove as a little girl. She has already had multiple surgeries for hip dysplasia. Swimming is encouraged to help her joints so she spends a large amount of her time in the water anyway. Her strict parents have other ideas and dismiss her dream and Mermaid Cove as a waste of time. They continually remind Verónica of all they have done for her and her sister by immigrating to the US from Peru. They tell her she should only focus on getting a “good” job. When auditions are announced at the Cove, Verónica decides to pursue her dream behind their backs. She soon finds out that they were also keeping secrets about her hip.

Natalia Sylvester brings her OwnVoice to the book with her disabled representation, as she also has hip dysplasia like the main character Verónica. It was good to read such a real, raw, and personal portrayal of the struggles with disability and chronic pain in a young adult fiction book. Verónica doesn’t want to be a young adult like any other. She wants to be seen for exactly who she is - scars, limp, and all. I also have hip issues though nothing as severe as hip dysplasia. Verónica's thoughts on living with chronic pain rang very true. When something hurts pretty much all the time, it has to get really bad before you notice it enough to speak up. You just push the low-level pains away so you can get on with your life.

There is a little romance in this book, with the new boy who has moved into her apartment complex, Alex. Alex struggles with mental health issues and the young couple grows into their relationship as they each realize how their experiences compare and contrast with one another. The other characters - Verónica's sister, Dani, her gregarious best friend, Leslie, and Leslie’s sister (who is also a mermaid at the Cove), Tanya, and the cast of mermaids - are all well thought out and bring a lot to the story. It is almost like this was a diary and not a novel. The introspection and thoughtfulness put into Verónica's narration make this an incredible book. I recommend it as an OwnVoices portrayal of chronic pain, as a first-generation immigrant story, as a young love tale, and as a story of sisterhood and deep friendships.

Be aware there is talk of Verónica being touched without enthusiastic consent and her body mocked, followed up with her not being heard or supported by her parents in the aftermath. There is a lot discussion of about surgeries, scars, and blood. And Verónica's boyfriend, Alex, suffers from depression. I felt that these were all handled carefully and appropriately for a young adult book.

I’m glad to see more disabled representation in young adult fiction, especially when it is brought this authentically. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys learning about others’ perspectives and lives by reading OwnVoices books. It’s also just a really sweet romance and it’s fun to read about mermaids!

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