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book review: breathe and count back from ten by natalia sylvester

“people talk about pain like it’s measurable. they’ll ask me to put it on a scale from one to ten. but I’ve been pushing it away so long it’s like my barometer’s broken.” 

Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester


Rating: 4 out of 5.


young adult fiction

Disability Rep:

hip dysplasia, chronic pain


In this gorgeously written and authentic novel, Verónica, a Peruvian-American teen with hip dysplasia, auditions to become a mermaid at a Central Florida theme park in the summer before her senior year, all while figuring out her first real boyfriend and how to feel safe in her own body.

Verónica has had many surgeries to manage her disability. The best form of rehabilitation is swimming, so she spends hours in the pool, but not just to strengthen her body.

Her Florida town is home to Mermaid Cove, a kitschy underwater attraction where professional mermaids perform in giant tanks . . . and Verónica wants to audition. But her conservative Peruvian parents would never go for it. And they definitely would never let her be with Alex, her cute new neighbor.

She decides it’s time to seize control of her life, but her plans come crashing down when she learns her parents have been hiding the truth from her—the truth about her own body.


content warnings.

ableism, sexual assault, sexism, depression


Breathe and Count Back from Ten has officially become the first YA book I’ve ever read with a non-white disabled main character who lives with chronic pain (other than the book I’m writing, of course 🤭). It was so exciting to hear about this book from my writing buddy @hilaryreadsbooks , and it did not disappoint. 

The novel follows Verónica, a Peruvian-American high schooler with hip dysplasia and ultra-protective parents, who dreams of becoming a professional mermaid. She loves to be in the water–this grabbed my attention immediately; water helps reduce inflammation and pain, and water therapy is common amongst those of us with chronic nerve pain. 

I loved that, unlike most of the other books I’ve read in this genre featuring chronic illness and disability, this book didn’t read as a romantic, inspirational story for non-disabled folk to feel full of gratitude and pity. The reason for that is of course the fact that the author is writing from her own experiences and genuine understanding. 

It was amazing to see parts of my lived experience that I rarely talk about represented in this book: how wholly inadequate language can be to explain chronic pain, how we are seen as strong only when we don’t ask for help, how our bodies make us who we are even if they cause us pain.

I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, not just because it’s a wonderful and beautifully written coming of age story, but also because it’s unlike any of the others you’ve read before. Here’s to more disabled stories in every genre 💙

“I wouldn’t take away any part of me, because that would mean erasing all of me.” 

Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts down below!

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day <3

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