Counting Thyme

320p. Putnam. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399173301.
Gr 4–7—When her five-year-old brother Val begins a clinical trial for cancer treatment at New York's Sloane Kettering Hospital, 11-year-old Thyme and her family leave their beloved San Diego home to move to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Thyme embraces her role as the helpful middle sister, secretly saving slips of "time"—good behavior chits—so she can go home, all the while trying to avoid adjusting to New York or letting anyone at school know about Val's illness. With just the right pace of character development and a believable voice for the shy, awkward Thyme, Conklin takes her protagonist through a journey of connecting to others and learning to articulate her own needs. A constant but quiet tension runs throughout, both concerning Val's health and Thyme's emotional growth; readers continuously watch Thyme's reactions as other characters—including a cute boy who seems to understand about secrets—reach out to her. Sadness and hope are well balanced, and the family characters and interactions are tense but full of love. Most experienced readers will recognize several overused plot points (e.g., young girl befriends lonely, grumpy, elderly neighbor; immigrant housekeeper lends strength through her cooking) and wonder at this upper middle class white girl's lack of awareness or curiosity about her cultural and socioeconomic place in her new home.
VERDICT A slow and sweet book that will strum the heartstrings of readers in much the same ways as Jo Knowles's See You at Harry's (Candlewick, 2012), Wendy Mass's A Mango-Shaped Space (Little, Brown, 2003), or Katherine Hannigan's Ida B: … And Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World (Scholastic, 2004).

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