The teenage life of a Bangladeshi-American in Tashie Bhuiyan’s ‘Counting Down with You’
Being a fan of young adult books, I am always on the lookout for characters who resemble me, and for stories I can relate to. Since most YA books written in English are set outside Bangladesh, I always have a tough time with finding proper character representation. Tashie Bhuiyan's debut novel, Counting Down with You (Inkyard Press, 2021), was like a mirror to my soul. For the first time, I felt seen as a reader and could relate to the things the protagonist was feeling. From the rich descriptions of Bangladeshi food to small things like the Muslim intonations in the protagonist's speech, all of it made me feel like the story was for once about me.
Counting Down with You revolves around the life of Karina Ahmed, a 16-year-old Bangladeshi-American. The novel begins with her parents leaving for a month-long trip to Bangladesh while she struggles to keep up with their expectations. Growing up with strict family rules, Karina has a month to enjoy her newfound freedom and to decide how to persuade her parents to let her study English instead of Medicine in college. Choosing career paths can be tricky and the additional burden of expectations leads her to a self-diagnosis of anxiety.
To add more problems to her overflowing stack, Karina agrees to tutor and pretend to be in a relationship with her school's resident bad boy, Ace. The two are an unlikely pair, and their romance is endearing and sweet. It includes bookstore dates, candle gifts, Spotify playlists, and self-composed poems. It is the kind of love—including the magic of first love—that bookworms yearn for.
Karina's experiences are conveyed with compassion, emphasising the real issues of gender inequality in South Asian communities. The fact that parents continue to force their dreams on children instead of letting them pursue their own speaks volumes about the family dynamics existing in our households. Karina is seen to experiment with various ways of coping with anxiety instead of seeking professional help. Her experiences represent the glaring lack of mental health care in our community, even beyond national borders. That being said, the techniques Karina employs could be a helpful resource for readers suffering from similar issues.
What I loved about this book, most of all, was Karina's support system. Her relationship with her grandmother, whom she calls Dadu, is a sweet addition to the family dynamics. Dadu's influence is not restricted by conservative beliefs; in fact it is strengthened by her roots, as she constantly stands up for her grandchildren. Karina's friends, too, belong from different communities and are equally vocal about her career predicament. While they are always there to cheer for her, they also help her evolve as an individual.
A Bangladeshi-American author like her protagonist, Tashie Bhuiyan is based in New York, having just graduated with a degree in Public Relations. Counting Down with You is her first novel, and at its heart, it is a tale of a Bangladeshi immigrant with moments in which you can visualise yourself as the protagonist. It is a story of two different people falling in love while embracing their differences. It is also the story of an ordinary family of clashing opinions, bounded by love and care.
Maisha Islam Monamee is a freelance journalist who likes reading, planning, and scribbling. Follow @monameereads on Instagram.
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