Nana's Reviews > Counting Down with You

Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan
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it was ok
bookshelves: 2021, uni-y2

Final thoughts on the published book -

Representation discourse aside, Counting Down With You was a bit of a generic and okay read for me. There were certain parts that were nice but the story felt reminiscent of childish cliches and it read as corny. For example, Karina is a great character, with cultural depth and teenage problems - her character is one I think will resonate a lot with people her age. But Ace on the other hand did not read like a 16-year-old boy. He was far too unrealistic in his behavior and dialogue, which made me feel like the story did not flesh out his character. Cora and Nandini, Karina's best friends, also felt like they existed to only add to Karina's character growth when it would've been nice to have insight into them as people.

Overall, I appreciated the journey Karina was taking with her life in this story (especially when she interacted with Dadu, Samir, her cousins) but the romance is what brought it down for me. The love story felt superficial and instant. I think this book could be a great read for some younger readers looking for a light romance read, though older readers might find it cheesy.

Review for the ARC which was then changed and the specific quotes I mention were removed -

Let me preface by saying that as a Muslim brown reader, I was so sure I was going to love this book and it hurts me to have to be the one to steer fellow Muslim brown readers away from it because of the problematic representation.

The premise is that Karina Ahmed, a Bangladeshi-American teenager, ends up in a fake dating scheme with the school's bad boy after her parents leave to Bangladesh for a month. The fake dating comes in after 100 pages though so the beginning is a little slow (but that's not really a complaint). Karina is generally very sweet, her friend group is great and she does seem true to the teenage experience.

But I have two very big problems. The first is the cliche/Wattpad-like writing style and plot development. However, I will not focus on that (although it did definitely affect my reading experience) because the author is young, this is a debut, she can most definitely improve and I will be happy to see how she does.

However, the second problem is too much for me to overlook, which is why I have to unfortunately write a negative review - the representation.

This book was heavily marketed as an ownvoices story about a Muslim Bangladeshi main character. I can understand what the author was trying to do when discussing some of the limitations brown people grow up with (we all have very overbearing parents and it is very fair for the story to focus on that because that is a true experience of being a brown daughter). However, the hints of anti-Islam / rejecting-culture in that representation is just not it.

It is important to emphasize that I am very flexible when it comes to ownvoices representation. One brown person's experience might be relatable, another's might not. I do not go into an ownvoices story expecting every word on the page to speak to me. But what I do expect is that the representation be done without bashing the culture or turning the culture into the villain.

Karina has suffocating parents but the line between criticizing her experiences and criticizing Islamic/cultural values was blurred too much for my comfort.

Here are some examples that made me uncomfortable:

"There are far too many rules in my household, and not dating is one of the big ones... [cont] Whether it's revealing clothes, going to a party, eating food that's not halal, or hanging out with boys - all of it is forbidden." (page 40)

"But I'm not like them. I'm Muslim and I'm Bangladeshi, which means there a million things other people can do that I'll never be able to do." (page 60) (I understand the intent but the way this is written implies that non-Muslims get to live happily whereas Muslims have to live under negative strict rules...?)

"Most conservative Bangladeshi Muslims don't like dogs... [cont] They're seen as impure or whatever. I think it's dumb and dogs are cute, but my parents freaked me out about it really bad when I was younger, so I'm kind of... hesitant." (page 109)

"Nandini has more freedom than me, because she isn't Muslim..." (page 279) (Once again, I understand the intent but this is not the way to phrase it... why couldn't Karina say Nandini has more freedom because her parents don't impose religion or her parents aren't strict with religious expectations? Why did she have to say it's because she isn't Muslim? I really don't understand)

There is a very weird tone when talking about cultural/Muslim things... Why does Karina put down her parents in front of some white boy just for raising her with the only values they know? Modesty, eating halal, etc. - these things are part of Islam and her parents are immigrants who do not have the same American life experience as her. Her parents are trying to instill the values they grew up with in her and while they are over-the-top doing that, Karina attacks the values rather than the parenting. I'm not saying she's obliged to follow them at all but what I am saying is: there is a way to discuss overbearing parents and putting down their religious beliefs is not one of them. The discussion of overbearing parents went more into the category of her discussing how "wack" her heritage values are and how she basically looks down at them for following it.

The reason I'm concerned by this representation is because it's almost akin to the Netflix style representation of Muslims. Non-brown people will read this book, read sentences that only imply oppression and have a completely warped view of our culture and religion. I am not denying there are flaws in the culture, Karina's experiences are very real, but the way she talks about them is where the problem lies.

Had Karina adopted a perspective that shed insight on her cultural background while not tearing it down in the process of falling in love with the savior-white-boy, I would've loved this story. But this is not the representation story it marketed itself as at all. This representation is feeding a very biased narrative that we've already seen and we are sick of. Muslim representation always seems to have some underlying challenging-the-beliefs type of story, and there's always some non-Muslim love interest who eggs that on. Maybe if the love interest had also been a POC immigrant and the story showed him helping Karina coming to terms with balancing her cultural values along with trying to break free of expectations, it could've worked.

Sorry that this is so long, I just had to get my thoughts across to other brown Muslims who were expecting something else. This book really upset me so, if you are a brown Muslim reader, I would advise you to skip it.

Some other reviews that also explain the rep problems, maybe better than me lol:
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Reading Progress

December 8, 2020 – Shelved
December 8, 2020 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
February 5, 2021 – Shelved as: 2021
February 5, 2021 – Shelved as: uni-y2
February 5, 2021 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by Lei (new)

Lei Loved this review, Nana. Thanks for your thoughts! :)

message 2: by Ele (new)

Ele I love this review and how well delivered and clear your points are!! I will gladly skip a book with bad rep

birdie Thank you for the review Nana! You said it so well and I’m glad you are being honest and therefore protecting others from being hurt. It’s so important <3!

message 4: by juno (new)

juno This was great insight into what it’s like to read harmful representation for your own community! This was a very helpful review, thank you Nana :)

message 5: by Karina (new) - added it

Karina thank you nana for the review! it was well-written and your points were well made! :)

message 6: by Fasya (new)

Fasya Thank you for your review. As a Muslim myself and just reading tiny bits of the sentences you quoted, kinda makes me upset. Like you said, it can gives Islam a bad impression to the non Muslim people. As for that I will definitely skip this book.

message 7: by fac (new) - added it

fac Nana thank you for your review! This showed me how harmful it can be to read such books that criticize our own RELIGION instead of the parenting. This review is going to show others how this book isn’t suitable for them. This was a very helpful review. Great job! <33

message 8: by Najma (new)

Najma As a muslim this upsets me so much and i was so excited to read it guess i will have to skip it

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