Today’s post includes a main book review – Counting Down With You – and a mini-book review of a recent Amar Chitra Katha I read – Shakti (Tales of the Mother Goddess). Note that today’s books, while dealing with or having something to do with religion, do not really have a religious agenda (at least from what I felt after reading them).
The first book – Counting Down.. – is simply an #OwnVoices novel written by a Bangladeshi Muslim author using her own experiences as part of the story. The second one is one of the many Amar Chitra Katha series; most of its comics are based on religious legends and epics, historical figures and biographies, folktales and cultural stories, and have been a staple of many Indian households as reading for children since 1967.
Counting Down With You
Title: Counting Down With You
Author: Tashie Bhuiyan
Length: 464 Pages
Genre: Teen and YA Fiction/Mental Health, Multicultural, Own Voices
Publisher: Inkyard Press; Original edition (May 4, 2021)
A reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy.
How do you make one month last a lifetime?
Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.
Karina is my girlfriend.
Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.
T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?
Cute, real, cute, tugging-at-heart-strings, cu… oh, well, I said that twice already! But that is how I feel about this book. It generated wide smiles, teary-eyes, that clenching of your heart feel, and brought about that warm embrace of a hug through its pages.
What I Loved
I loved very many things about it so rather than have
a verbose paragraphs, I am going to list it all.
- Karina aka Myra to her family is a girl who loves words, books, poetry, and all of it while being oh-so-real with anxiety attacks. She has her strengths (well, she does love words and etc) and weaknesses too; both are portrayed well resulting in a believable, relate-able character.
- Ace is the boy who is sometimes saccharine sweet but overall the kind of boyfriend a teen me would have loved, or at this point in time, would love my own child to have
- Dadu, Karina’s grandmom, who is oh-so-awesome and reminds me of my own super-cool grandmoms! (and yes, she deserves the bold font!)
- Cora and Nandini, aka Karina’s friend squad, her sisterhood!! I am glad I have always had (and still have) friends like that.
- Samir, Karina’s brother who is the right combination of annoying, adorable, and supporting sibling. You know, the one who is always ready to tease you and pick a fight with you, but instantly on your side when you are engaged in a battle with someone else.
- And of course, many more family members (parental units, other siblings, and a whole bunch of cousins, uncles, and aunts) who fit right in to make this story what it is
- Oh yes, the teacher, as well as the owners of the book store and the bakery (or is it actually the two-storied bookstore delightfully called Two Stories and the bakery itself with a yummilicious menu!!)
The rest of it
While I thought about having many more lists (like for people), I decided to keep it under a pre-determined word limit (not telling you!) and under one common umbrella labeled, well, The rest of it, as you already saw!
- Bhuiyan’s writing strikes the right balance between sweetness and strength, and between humor and compassion. And I simply love all the poetry she includes within — she has to since Karina loves writing poetry!
- I loved the focus on mental health issues, specifically Karina’s anxiety attacks
- In addition, I also admired the focus on the pressures that arise with parental expectations and parents-know-best attitudes, as well as the need to try to fit in – between what we want and what others around us want (more on it below)
- Dadu!! Well, I know I mentioned her already but she needs another mention. Her character is pure gold so thank you Tashie Bhuiyan for Dadu…
- The portrayal of relationships (between siblings, friends, family, well, Ace and Karina too, and everyone) is simply realistic and beautiful.
- Bookish references, musical references, food references, cultural references, space references, and more!!
And Then Some More
I admire how Bhuiyan handled the issues mentioned in Counting Down With You as well as the representation itself, and wanted to keep these two points separate from the rest simply because it ended up being a lot more to say than I initially expected when I started writing The Rest of It section above!
- A point to note, based on my reading, was that the parental unit expectations was not just in Karina’s family but also something that Ace faced, albeit differently, but it is there. Regarding the parental pressures in Karina’s family: this is something seen in many South Asian families and which I know about having grown up in India (but I was certainly fortunate that my parents while having expectations, also allowed me the freedom to choose for myself). On the other hand, don’t all parents – regardless of who and where they are – have some sort of hopes for their children, and a we-know-things-so-we-can-help-you attitude to some degree or the other(I know I do!). These hopes might transfer into expectations and further into pressures((kind of like peer-pressure) depending upon the individual parental units.
- Should I/dare I speak about the representation in the book? Well, tbh, I did not really note any negative representation in the book when I read it, because I was reading it with the awareness that it is a #Ownvoices book written based on the author’s experiences. In fact, I noticed that Karina is someone I can identify with – someone who values her faith and the strengths of her culture and religion while understanding the other-side-of-the-coin (which exists for all things) as well as someone who is working to embrace the overall culture of where she lives. And I so appreciated Sanya’s regarding the representation in this book in this post.
- “… moonlight woven into a human being.”
- “Life is so short…You shouldn’t have to spend it being unhappy. None of us should.” [Dadu’s wise words!]
- “The older I am, the more I realize it’s not worth it to prioritize things that make you miserable.”[Dadu’s wise words!]
- “If I’m lightning, then what are you?” ….., “I’m thunder. I’ll follow you wherever you go.”
- “I carry your dreams inside my ribs/you carry mine between your hands….” (part of one of Karina’s poems)
Well, what more should I say.. read it, of course..
Get It Here
Mini Review – Shakti: Tales of the Mother Goddess
It seemed apt to feature this book as I navigate between two major festivals for us – Navratri (which happens to be centered around the Mother Goddess) and Diwali (once again, there are stories about the Mother Goddesses for this festival as well). So as we stopped counting down the days of the Navratri festival and start counting down towards Diwali (which is on November 3rd this year), it was a cool spot to feature this read.
Title: Shakti: Tales of the Mother Goddess
Editor: Reena Puri /Authors & Illustrators: Various
Length: 74 Pages
Publisher: Amar Chitra Katha Pvt ltd (January 1, 2018)
Adi Shakti is considered to be the original creator of the universe. She is the power that protects and destroys. She represents the fertile, bountiful earth, and is the protector of all life form. All goddesses are considered to be a manifestation of her. The worship of the goddess has evolved over time. Local village goddesses of the forest, field, river and lake became versions of the one great female principle. Lakshmi, Saraswati and Parvati are also considered to be forms of Adi Shakti. The Devi Mahatmayam or the ‘Glory of the Goddess’, describes her as the fierce and beautiful goddess who fights asuras and wards off evil. She shields the gods against evil and stands up for the worthy. Amar Chitra Katha brings together stories of seven goddesses from the Puranas, folklore and the Devi Bhagavata. Endowed with strength, grace and courage, these goddesses show us the power of being a woman.
I was delighted to discover this book as I grew up on a steady diet of Amar Chitra Katha comics (literally speaking, I mean!) and I learned to appreciate and love to read just about everything partly because of these books. They include stories about gods and goddesses, about historical figures, as well as folktales and more.
This book is full of stunning illustrations that are reminiscent of the Amar Chitra Kathas I grew up with and have something of a more contemporary look to them to appeal to today’s young readers. The stories themselves are of course told in the wonderful standards of this series of comics as I remember from the very earliest.
A beautifully picturized and well narrated set of stories for young and old readers. You can get it here (like I did!)
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, have you read any of the featured books, or similar ones? What about the Amar Chitra Katha series? I would love to hear your thoughts, recommendations, and more. What are you currently counting down towards?