Breathe and Count Back from Ten, Natalia Sylvester

Breathe and Count Back from Ten, Natalia Sylvester

Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester is beautifully written contemporary about a girl with hip dysplasia who dreams of becoming a professional mermaid. With a complex main character who comes to reclaim her agency in her own life and a poetic writing style, this is a meaningful story that touches on several important topics. Those looking for a summer read with more serious themes–and realistic representation for disabilities–will not want to miss this one.

Breathe and Count Back from Ten, Natalia SylvesterTitle: Breathe and Count Back From Ten
Author: Natalia Sylvester
Publisher: Clarion
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult Fiction
Publication Date: May 10, 2022
Rating: four-stars

Summary (from Goodreads):

Verónica, a Peruvian‑American teen, must deal with both her painful hip dysplasia and her overprotective immigrant parents, all while chasing her dream to become a professional mermaid in this gorgeously written, authentic novel about secrets and finding your wings (or tail).

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❃ I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. ❃


Breathe and Count Back From Ten, Natalia Sylvester

After attending a mermaid show at a young age, Verónica has developed a passion for mermaids and a dream of someday becoming a professional mermaid herself. When an opportunity to make her dream a reality at a local theme park arises, she applies for the position, but several obstacles stand in her way. As a teenager with hip dysplasia,  Verónica is forbidden from pursuing this career as her parents don’t believe it would be safe, so she decides to take the job in secret. As the summer continues and secrets are revealed, Verónica must stay true to herself and assert her agency in her own life.

❀ Complex Character

Verónica is such a complex character, and I enjoyed her voice. Throughout the book, she experiences a lot of pressure from her parents in different ways. It is clear that they only want the best for her, but Verónica struggles to live up to their expectations and to play an active role in discussions about her own health. What I particularly enjoyed is the way Verónica slowly gains confidence in herself and in her body. This is true in two different senses: she not only comes to accept her visible scars, but as she has also been made to feel ashamed for wanting to date, Verónica also gains confidence in herself as a woman. Her journey accepting herself and making her own decisions about her body is so important, and I loved the way the author weaves these themes throughout the narrative.

❀ Poetic Writing Style

As I was reading this book, I found myself blown away by the poetic writing style. As Natalia Sylvester tells Verónica’s story, she delves into the emotions behind each scene and takes the time to linger with Verónica’s thoughts. The descriptions of Verónica’s relationship with the water–a space where she can move more freely–are especially moving. One aspect that really stood out to me is the definitions at the start of each chapter, as, for each of the chosen words, we see both a dictionary definition and Verónica’s own understanding of the word based on her own experiences. This builds a satisfying theme before each chapter and helps the reader get to know Verónica’s thoughts and feelings.

❀ A Moving Story

Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester is a moving story about agency and following your dream in the face of opposition. I loved the concept of professional mermaids with disability rep, and the main character is realistic and relatable. The introspection in the writing style makes this an even more touching story, and I would definitely recommend this one to those looking for a cute summer read with thought-provoking themes.

About Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester

Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester is an award-winning writer of novels, essays, and poetry. CHASING THE SUN was named the Best Debut Book of 2014 by Latinidad Magazine and EVERYONE KNOWS YOU GO HOME won an International Latino Book Award and the 2019 Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters. Her debut YA novel, RUNNING, was a 2020 Junior Library Guild Selection and her sophomore YA, BREATHE AND COUNT BACK FROM TEN, will be out in May 2022 from HarperCollins/Clarion Books.

19 thoughts on “Breathe and Count Back from Ten, Natalia Sylvester

  1. anovelglimpse says:

    Professional mermaids? How unique! I can honestly saw I have never read a book with that included. It sounds like the author did a great job with the rep and the writing. Great review!

  2. Sam@WLABB says:

    I think one of the strongest things in the book was the focus on Verónica personal agency. I also loved the beauty and freedom she found in swimming. I could feel those parts in my soul.

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