Reviewed by Kaelin Lee, age 16

Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester

During the summer before her senior year of high school, Veronica seizes her chance to audition at her Florida town’s underwater mermaid attraction, Mermaid Cove, and fulfill her long-held dream of becoming a professional mermaid. Due to her hip dysplasia, she has loved swimming for years to help manage the pain and strengthen her body. However, for Veronica to pursue her dreams, she will have to keep them hidden from her conservative Peruvian parents’ knowledge. There’s also Alex, her cute new neighbor and first real boyfriend, who becomes another secret she must hide from them.

I loved how real all the characters’ struggles felt in this book, especially Veronica. The pressure Veronica feels to make her parents’ sacrifices to immigrate to America worth it is something young audiences can relate to closely. The expectations of her to find a more stable career instead of pursuing her goal of becoming a professional mermaid also work well in the story to create an obstacle for her that’s grounded in reality. Even her dream career comes with unexpected challenges, from rigorous training to prejudice in the industry. Veronica additionally has to deal with how people treat her when they learn she has a disability. Her relationship with her body and how others react to it is a prevalent theme in the book that raises important disability awareness. The difficulties Veronica must face make her a great protagonist in this coming-of-age story because she faces them with resilience and strength. Although, more importantly, she has moments that lack maturity and display selfishness, which she eventually acknowledges and grows from. They made her a well-rounded and realistic character that made her easy to root for.

I could genuinely see myself and others my age in how she carried herself. The story centered around Veronica and her journey of self-discovery, so the romance made sense as a subplot. However, Veronica and Alex’s relationship was still enjoyable to read about and quite refreshing as well. Unlike other fictional teenagers, Alex and Veronica were able to maturely support each other. When opening up about their mental and physical health states, both displayed rare empathy and vulnerability. Overall, I found the book to be well-written from a raw, honest perspective, and it tackles serious issues while leaving room for romance, fun, and laughter, which is no easy feat.

3 stars of 5 stars

Find this book in our catalog: N/A

Catalog Number: N/A

305 pages