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Counting Backwards by Laura Lascarso

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Counting Backwards
by Laura Lascarso

Counting Backwards

By: Laura Lascarso

Release Date: August 14, 2012

Rating: 4 Stars

Summary: Three weeks ago I tried to run away from home. Now all I want is to go back.

When troubled Taylor Truwell is caught with a stolen car and lands in court for resisting arrest, her father convinces the judge of an alternative to punishment: treatment in a juvenile psychiatric correctional facility. Sunny Meadows is anything but the easy way out, and Taylor has to fight hard just to hold on to her sanity as she battles her parents, her therapist, and vicious fellow patients. But even as Taylor struggles to hold on to her stubborn former self, she finds herself relenting as she lets in two unlikely friends-Margo, a former child star and arsonist, and AJ, a mysterious boy who doesn’t speak. In this striking debut, Laura Lascarso weaves together a powerful story of anger and self-destruction, hope and love.


The somber cover, the serious summary, even the title that conjures up hints of some ambiguous psychiatric disorder, all the signs point to Counting Backyards being a serious look at one girl’s stint in rehab. And it is, but don’t think for a second this is some depressing book that has its characters spewing a lifetime of regrets, failures, and issues in group therapy, Laura Lascarso’s debut is actually a surprisingly quirky and sometimes more than a little silly look at how to survive a behavioral treatment program.

I will say, though, that I probably like this book for mostly wrong reasons. Taylor Truwell isn’t like any other teen with an alcoholic mother I’ve ever read – she’s as scarred as the rest of them, but she’s not in denial, she’s a realist. That’s what lands her at the inartfully named Sunny Meadows “Therapeutic Boarding School” in the first place – she steals a car from her mother’s drunk one night stand so she can get away from it all. So while the book touches on her mommy issues, her resentment at being forced into rehab, and her own troubled past, that’s not the initial focus of the plot. Rather, I loved Taylor’s single minded determination to break out, reading as she deviously devises ever more clever means of escape, putting the little pieces she’s gathered into one overarching plot. And when her big break finally comes, as weeks of pent up anticipation finally becomes reality, I was laughing along with her as she gleefully puts her escape plan into action, following her step by step plan to freedom. What a ride.

Obviously, she doesn’t get very far. Oh well. But that’s another thing I like about Counting Backwards, Lascarso could’ve stretched out a lot of fairly predictable things and milked them for all they’re worth, but she doesn’t. Like Taylor’s escape fiasco, it takes less than half the book. Or her initial foes at Sunny Meadows, a group of mean girls called the Latina Queens, they get a couple of chapters to predictably antagonize Taylor, but then Lascarso moves on and shakes up the story, putting Taylor and her tormentors in a different direction. Even AJ, it’s really obvious he and Taylor’s mysterious insider contact at Sunny Meadows are one and the same, and Lascarso doesn’t take her time to confirm it, that confirmation comes quickly enough and the story moves on.

Rather than banking on these predictable elements of rehab, Taylor’s story is different and quite entertaining. She’s supported by her quirky peer mentor Margo, who’s both a supportive friend and a cheerful presence, along with the rest of the inmates at Sunny Meadows, all with their own, unique, memorable problems. I’m not surprised Taylor learns something from her whole experience, and even though much of the drama following her failed escape attempt is the result of her own stubborn and disappointing choices, her transition from messed up to rehabilitated doesn’t feel forced for the sake of ending the story, her flaws are played out in a believable way. My big disappointment, besides the slower pace and self inflicted drama of the second half, actually is her father’s characterization, Taylor blames him for abandoning her and her mother, but as feel good endings go, I don’t think those problems are entirely developed, explained, and resolved despite the best efforts of her therapist, Dr. Deb.

As rehab stories go, I could definitely do a lot worse. Sure, Counting Backwards stars one messed up girl who does some very stupid things during the course of the story, but still, she was very entertaining. And it mostly works out in the end.
Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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