The lesson I took from Karen Gregory’s debut novel, Countless? Ironically enough was exactly that – count less, live more…

 

Hedda loves numbers. They are logical, they make sense, they can be controlled… but that control is about to be tested… Countless is a novel intended for a young adult readership, however the subject and its context have a broader reach which make it one which has huge crossover appeal.

 

Hedda is named after an influential character from world literature and although not every reader approaching this novel for the first time will have come across Hedda Gabler, those who have or those that will, will recognise the tragic connection between the literary character of the past and this brand new female protagonist.

 

Hedda in this novel is a breath away from a very dangerous edge. Her proficiency for maths is about to become a very dangerous thing. She’s counting and there are just

17 weeks…

119 days…

357 meals…

standing between her and what she considers to be the rest of her life. You see, Hedda has just found out she’s pregnant; a tough enough revelation for a teenage girl – but one that is made enough tougher because of Hedda’s relationship with Nia. Hedda has been living with Nia for most of her life. She has been in and out of hospital because of her and lives alone in a place that isn’t fit for a teenager because of her, but she can’t give her up. Nia is Hedda’s constant companion throughout most of the novel, but Nia isn’t any kind of friend that Hedda needs. She’s critical and destructive and she’s about to ruin Hedda’s life…

 

Nia is in fact an eating disorder. Or rather the name of Hedda’s eating disorder. Those around her try to convince her that she should let her go – something that Hedda has been battling with her whole life but which is even more important now –there is more than one life at risk…

 

Countless is a heart-breaking and honest look at issues related to mental health, self-image and teenage pregnancy, at times tough to read, there is also a glimmer of hope here in Hedda’s determination to see her decisions through. Will the promise of new life be enough to save Hedda? Will she be able to fight the odds and survive? These are all questions that the novel raise. Another important issue raised was the role of numbers in our lives – not just for Hedda but for people in general.

 

One of the things that Hedda is repeatedly saying, largely in defence of her actions but also as an accurate observation of humanity generally, is that people are always counting things. At first I thought little of this, but the more it was repeated in the novel, the more I thought about it, the more I began to realise how it has truth to it.

 

We’re always counting, measuring: days of the week, months of the year, minutes left until the end of the day, work due in x weeks and I came to realise that the act of counting those things sometimes means that we’re not living in those moments at all – by counting the minutes in a day, we sometimes forgot to live in that day and on that level, I identified with Hedda. She is a girl caught in a moment, trapped by her numbers and they have come to mean so much to her that even her life pales in significance to them. It’s an important lesson from a complex, at times difficult and exceptionally well written novel – the crux of the story is that we should count less and live more. Something I know I will be doing more after reading this.

 

Countless is a novel which for me is about living in the moment, feeling emotions and learning to survive in times of adversity. A highly recommended read, this book will stay with you long after you have read the final page.

 

Countless is published by Bloomsbury Children’s on 4th May 2017