nosaferplace Book Club: Countless (Alexia Casale - Guest Post)

Author: Karen Gregory
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Read why Lexi chose Countless as part of the nosaferplace Book Club:

Hedda has just been released (yet again) from an in-patient eating disorders unit. How soon will she be back? Does she even want to get better? Is she going to follow in the footsteps of her best friend from the unit and die in her teens?
All these questions go out the window when she discovers she’s pregnant. Now she needs to decide if she’s going to have the baby and, if so, how she’s going to manage to eat enough for it to be healthy.
Countless is one of the best books I’ve ever read about eating disorders. It glorifies nothing, shying away from triggering detail while still giving a realistic sense of what life as an anorexic is actually like. It takes a tough, unflinching look at the recovery process – and how often it’s five steps back for every step forwards.
Never gratuitous, the story is full of nuance and compassion for its cast of flawed characters – from Hedda’s parents and sister to the boy who lives alone in the next door flat, and from Hedda’s counsellor to the other girls from the unit and the expectant mums Hedda’s path crosses. Sensitive and careful, it minimises none of the characters’ responsibility for their choices while never condemning people for struggling with difficult circumstances. It’s a story that consistently withholds judgement and, instead, offers the reader a window on an interconnected series of all too real lives. We see what people do, why and where it leads, but we’re never told what to think or feel about it. This is my favourite type of contemporary YA novel – one that leaves space for me as the reader to think for myself and come to my own conclusions about the social, moral and psychological issues at stake.
The portrayal of the difficulties of surviving on benefits – and the patchiness of support and resources for teens like Hedda who can’t or won’t live at home – is particularly timely. We see how excellent some of the support is, but also why Hedda often can’t take advantage of it, sometimes because of failures in other areas – and sometimes because she hasn’t yet found the resources in herself to take charge of her life. It’s a very clever picture of how a teenager can slowly find her own way past difficulties within and without to start to see who she will become as an adult.
Walking with Hedda through her story, we understand why she is struggling and why she doesn’t have the resources she needs (both physical and mental) to make the most of her life. How do young people learn to be self-sufficient, especially when their parents, while not pure evil, are anything but perfect and haven’t given them the support they need to learn those skills? How do you find the strength to grow into a hopeful adult when much of your childhood has been filled with despair? It’s very much a coming-of-age story, but one that looks at how young people can bridge seemingly impassable gaps between who they are and who they want to be if they’re to have a future worth living.

One of my favourite books of 2017, I can’t wait for Gregory’s second novel.

1 comment

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