cover image Breathe and Count Back from Ten

Breathe and Count Back from Ten

Natalia Sylvester. Clarion, $17.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-358-53686-4

Peruvian American teenager Verónica feels most at peace when she’s swimming—where the pain caused by her hip dysplasia fades and she doesn’t have to deal with other people’s perceptions of her body. When she meets kind Mexican American Alex, who sees a therapist and takes medication for his depression, she must maneuver her growing feelings for him alongside her overprotective immigrant parents’ disapproval. They have been distrustful of her ever since they misconstrued a private moment with a boy, consequently shaming Verónica for acting on her desires. They also don’t approve of her “childish” dream to be an aquatic performer at a local Florida tourist attraction, Mermaid Cove, fearing that the role’s physicality is too much for her. But when further health complications and increasingly tense interactions with her parents embolden Verónica to take control of her own life and body, she eagerly auditions for and receives a role at Mermaid Cove. With attentiveness rooted in the author’s lived experience, Sylvester seamlessly explores bodily autonomy and familial expectations through a perceptive protagonist, sharp narration, and complex relationships. Verónica’s progress toward overcoming the boundaries created by family, friends, and society alike is powerful and engrossing. Ages 13–up. Agent: Laura Dail, Laura Dail Literary. (May)