Breathe and Count Back from Ten

Breathe and Count Back from Ten cover
Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester

By Natalia Sylvester
Clarion, 2022
346 pages

Age 13 and older

Veró’s immigrant family came to the United States from Peru years ago seeking opportunities for Veró and her younger sister, and better treatment options for Veró’s hip dysplasia. Now 17, Veró hates the way her immigrant parents are sometimes treated. She also sometimes hates the way they treat her, especially when it comes to sexist standards regarding her behavior. They are also overprotective, shielding Veró from medical information she wants to know. Excited to get a job at her town’s tourist attraction, Mermaid Cove—she’s dreamed of being a mermaid since she was a child—Veró doesn’t tell her parents, sure her father in particular wouldn’t approve, but can only keep her new job a secret for so long. Wonderfully developed characters and relationships propel this thoughtful and entertaining story culminating in a performance inspired by the Peruvian stories of Huacachina; reshaped by Veró to speak her own truth, and advocate for others. Veró is confident of her capabilities, yet sometimes self-conscious about her disability; she’s an almost-adult longing for respect, even as she doesn’t always afford the same to her younger sister. This lively exploration of the complexities, and sometimes the contradictions, of Veró and her life touches on struggles of those around her as well, including her boyfriend Alex’s depression, and Mermaid Cove management’s treatment of gender nonbinary Geoff, another performer. It’s all perfectly weighted, and a pleasure to read, thanks to the fine storytelling. ©2022 Cooperative Children’s Book Center