Review: Countless by Karen Gregory

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

We’ve seen a bit of hype about this book going around the UKYA twitter-sphere, and so were really looking forward to reading it as soon as it came up on NetGalley. It’s a story of love, dependence and pressure, with a bitter sweet edge that’s guaranteed to make you feel something by the end. Let’s talk about the pros and cons!
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Hedda is young and suffering from an eating disorder without the support of her parents. She’s living in a council flat, struggling for cash, and having to go to therapy to talk through her issues. Recently, her best friend died because of her anorexia, and Hedda is still dealing with the repercussions of that disaster. Something she really didn’t need in her life were more complications, but, surprise!, she’s also pregnant.

The father isn’t involved in the story, which makes it that much more difficult for Hedda to cope. When I first picked up the book, I thought the whole book would be about her pregnancy, like Trouble by Non Pratt, but she actually gives birth 40% through the story, so  I got a lot more of her life than I was expected.

I think if I had to use one book to describe the book, it would be a struggle. Everything Hedda does and decision she makes, is complicated and affects more than just her. She isn’t well. She isn’t in a good mental state, but she still has to deal with all these things, and you can’t blame her for failing to cope. This is one of the most hard hitting books I’ve read recently, but in a good way. I like reading things that challenge me and my emotions.

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I’m really struggling with how to describe Hedda, because it feels unfair to call her unlikeable when her life is so difficult, and I didn’t find it hard to sympathise with her, but hard to like her.

In that way, I think it’s the most realistic portrayal of a mental illness I’ve read, because there’s not that promise of everything being rosy by the end. Even though Hedda is in therapy, it’s not working, and even though she knows she has to eat for the sake of her baby, it’s not an instant cure. I had to keep reading to know if things were going to be alright, and that’s one of the reasons I read the book so quickly!

I think what’s most interesting in the book is how Hedda gives her illness a name: Nia. You can instantly tell that it’s a controlling presence in her life, and feels like another character on her shoulder, colouring her judgement. But, as usual, the mental health issue and the main character are almost indistinguishable, so Hedda can come off as a little 2-D in some aspects.

It’s fascinating to compare Hedda to the other characters around her, and I think this is a great ensemble cast, with so many perspectives on Hedda’s situation that made me think of my own standpoint.

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Despite being a hard hitting, teeth baring book of reality, Hedda also gets to experience the joys of having someone else she can rely on for advice and comfort. I wouldn’t necessarily say that romance was the right answer for her story, but support definitely was, so when she and her neighbour were baking together, I liked to think of it in a purely plutonic way, and that would have been a much healthier relationship dynamic.

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If you’re interesting in reading a book about eating disorders, about teen pregnancy, or about a character that is dealing with a harsh reality, this is for you. The tonic for fluffy contemporaries, Countless makes a point about love and doing what’s best while not being full of sunshine and rainbows. I’m giving it 3.5 stars, with a strong recommendation!

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