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Counting Thyme

Counting Thyme

5.0 7
by Melanie Conklin

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Newbery-winning Rules meets Counting by 7s in this charming story of love and family.

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from


Newbery-winning Rules meets Counting by 7s in this charming story of love and family.

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. All she can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

“Debut author Conklin writes with a pitch-perfect middle-grade voice… A nice choice for middle-grade readers who enjoy heartfelt and emotional novels.”—Booklist 

“Thyme’s remarkable perseverance and resilience will inspire readers of Conklin’s compassionate tale.”—Kirkus Reviews

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Conklin makes a strong debut with this moving family story narrated by 11-year-old Thyme, whose five-year-old brother, Val, has been fighting cancer for nine months. When he is accepted into a drug trial, the Owens family leaves San Diego for New York City, where Thyme focuses on her secret plan to return home early. Conklin realistically depicts Thyme’s culture shock in Manhattan (apartment living, Laundromats, cold weather), homesickness for her grandmother and best friend, and the roller coaster of emotions that accompany a family member’s serious illness; equally strong is the exploration of middle-school friendship difficulties and the beginnings of a first crush. While a few of the characters (such as Thyme’s crush and the woman hired to cook and accompany her to and from school) are a little too good to be true, most develop in credible ways through their individual struggles. Conklin successfully weaves together the shifting dynamics of a loving family under crisis with the less dramatic but equally heartfelt turmoil of coming of age in a new environment. Ages 10–up. Agent: Peter Knapp, New Leaf Literary & Media. (Apr.)
School Library Journal
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).—Rhona Campbell, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews
Her younger brother's critical illness and a transcontinental move create upheaval in 11-year-old Thyme's life. In the nine months since her brother, Val, was diagnosed with cancer, Thyme's family life has been in turmoil. Her family's relocation to New York from California, for a new treatment to prevent the recurrence of Val's cancer, leaves Thyme feeling conflicted. Conklin sympathetically addresses Thyme's struggles to reconcile her longing to return home with her growing awareness of the significance of Val's new treatment. While depicting the complexity of the family members' reactions, from older sister Cori's increasing rebelliousness to their mother's distracted preoccupation, Conklin also reveals their unwavering support for Val. Despite her determination to remain aloof, Thyme soon becomes attached to her life in New York. She joins work on the school's spring performance and develops fledging friendships, including one with Jake, who she learns has also experienced grief. Thyme's efforts to cope with the constant uncertainty and her feelings of insignificance in light of Val's health issues illuminate the emotional impact a sibling's serious illness has on the family. Although Thyme may feel invisible next to Val's illness, when a medical crisis occurs, she realizes her vital importance to her family. Though Thyme and her family appear to be white, her classroom is realistically diverse. Thyme's remarkable perseverance and resilience will inspire readers of Conklin's compassionate tale. (Fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher
Praise for Counting Thyme:

“Debut author Conklin writes with a pitch-perfect middle-grade voice… A nice choice for middle-grade readers who enjoy heartfelt and emotional novels.”—Booklist

“Thyme’s remarkable perseverance and resilience will inspire readers of Conklin’s compassionate tale.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A sweet book that will strum the heartstrings of readers.”—School Library Journal

“Conklin successfully weaves together the shifting dynamics of a loving family under crisis with the less dramatic but equally heartfelt turmoil of coming of age in a new environment.”—Publishers Weekly

Counting Thyme shows how a serious illness can tear the fabric of a family apart, and love can stitch it back together again. This deeply moving story of family, friendship, and belonging will settle deep in your heart and stay there long after the final page is read.”—Donna Gephart, award-winning author of Death by Toilet Paper and Lily and Dunkin

“Melanie Conklin brings New York vividly to life in Counting Thyme, a gentle story fueled by heart, hope, and beautifully developed characters.”—Pat Schmatz, award-winning author of Bluefish

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)
680L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 Years

Meet the Author

Melanie Conklin is a writer, reader, and all-around lover of books and those who create them. She lives in South Orange, New Jersey, with her husband and two small maniacs. Melanie spent a decade as a product designer and approaches her writing with the same three-dimensional thinking and fastidious attention to detail. Counting Thyme is her debut novel.

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Counting Thyme 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
KathyMacMillan More than 1 year ago
Oh, this book. Sometimes when I read a book I love, I want to stop every few paragraphs and tell the world about it. And sometimes when I read a book that captures my heart, I want to hold it close and tell no one about it as I lose myself in the story. The characters speak to me so strongly that I don’t want to share them. Counting Thyme is one of the latter. The moment I met eleven-year-old Thyme - struggling to be okay in New York City when her whole life is thousands of miles away, feeling overlooked as her family struggles to deal with her brother’s cancer, resisting making a place for herself in her new home while still being drawn into her new life – I connected with this thoughtful protagonist. Thyme wants the things all young people want: friends, a happy family, a place in the world. She wants to count. And watching her navigate new relationships and changing old ones, all the time with the specter of her brother’s illness hanging over her, was a deeply moving experience. If you’re expecting a “sad cancer book” full of noble suffering and platitudes, think again. Yes, Thyme’s little brother has cancer, and yes, that affects the lives of her whole family. Sometimes they don’t react to their fear in brave or noble ways, but every piece of the story rings with truth. The ending had me in tears, but not for the reasons I expected. It affected me so deeply because of the way the emotions were beautifully earned by the characters and the intertwining threads of the story. This is not a sad book, not by a long shot – this is a story of hope and love and finding your place. Thyme’s story will stick with me for a long time.
HSMeloche More than 1 year ago
COUNTING THYME will grip your heart with a story and main character that are completely relatable. Thyme's younger brother, Val, is a cancer patient but has luckily been accepted into an experimental medical protocol that could keep him cancer-free. The problem: the family lives in California and the treatment is in New York City. Thyme is a good-hearted, loyal character, who would do anything for her brother, so she's all on board as her family moves away from her best friend, her grandma, and everything she knows in order to restart in New York. It's supposed to be a temporary relocation, just until the treatment is done, but as more and more time progresses in their new home, she doesn't know if she should invest in her new friends and her new life or continue to hope her family will ultimately move back. Also, her parents' focus on Val and his illness and away from her makes this even more confusing for her. Thyme wants to do what's right for her brother, but she struggles, as any 6th grader would, with putting her own happiness on the back burner for his health. Conklin offers readers a sweet story about the bittersweet balance between self-interests and the needs of the family we love.
KarenHallam More than 1 year ago
This story was very special, heart-rending, realistic, and beautifully written. Twelve-year-old Thyme has moved to New York City, leaving her friends and Grandmother behind in San Diego. She longs to return. She saves her slips of time to return and plans to get back to her best friend and grandmother no matter what. She has a plan. Except, she’d have to leave her father, mother, teenage sister, and her five-year-old brother, who’s undergoing cancer treatment for neuroblastoma behind. She struggles with this. Thyme loves her brother, and he needs her, she’s the one he talks to. At least, they won’t be in New York City much longer, thank goodness. The apartment is terribly small, not like her house in San Diego. There are grouchy neighbors, stinky subways, and her parents never seem to hear her anymore. Then there’s public school. It does offer a few distractions, with the new friends she’s met and the approaching talent show. She doesn’t want to tell anyone about her brother and risk having them feel sorry for her. Thyme is one tough and loveable kid. She bares much through the trials her brother goes through. Such a tough subject, written clearly and deftly; explaining much about the type of cancer and the experience Thyme’s brother goes through. It will rip your heart out. But there’s hope and a lot of love. I wanted to underline over half the book. There's so much to relate to, so many emotions. One of my favorite Middle-Grade reads this year, a classic in the making.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! While it deals with a difficult topic--childhood cancer from the sibling's perspective--the story has such strong underlying plots and themes that it becomes broadly relatable. As someone who moved around a lot growing up, I really identified with Thyme's transition to her new home in New York and the inner struggle of trying to cling to what you left behind while trying to build something new and the guilt and longing that comes on both sides of that. I particularly admire how the author portrayed Thyme, a middle child, someone who would rather work backstage than pursue the lead part, as she slips into the background of a family in crisis. Also, I loved the juxtaposition of the priorities of Thyme's day-to-day life--crushes, old and new friends, school dynamics--against the family's priorities--the youngest child's illness--and how the author showed how both were so important.
MsVerbose More than 1 year ago
Somehow my original review of this one was erased, but I received an ARC of this one in exchange for an honest review, and I LOVED it! What an amazing book. When Thyme's little brother is accepted into a cancer drug trial, her family moves across the country from CA to NY to support him. And while Thyme is rooting for her brother and the success of this trial, she's mourning her life that she had to give up to move. Her home. Her best friend. Her grandmother who used to live nearby. And so she has a plan. And a timeline. This book is a touching depiction of how families sacrifice and work together to overcome hard things. It's about how kids face the hard stuff the best they can, and how none of us are an island . . . we all need each other. I laughed. I cried. I didn't want the book to end. I highly recommend this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There was so much I loved about this book. The characters all have their own personalities, quirks, and lovable traits. Some of them appear most often in the serious parts of the story, while others lighten things up just when you need it. We get to know Thyme so well and experience the up and down emotions she goes through. And you'll learn the double meaning of the title, which also gives you an inside glimpse into her heart. This was an emotional read for me with cancer being such a big part of the story, but as much as this did make me cry, the author managed to show hope through Thyme's family and the new friends she encounters. There were so many times I laughed in the midst of it all. I can't tell you my favorite part of the book until you read it, but it was one of the most powerful lines I’ve read in a long time.
QuinnenDonnelly More than 1 year ago
Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a sucker for any book that’ll give me the feels. My debut is, admittedly, a tearjerker, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I was drawn to another middle grade tearjerker, Melanie Conklin‘s debut Counting Thyme. Eleven-year-old Thyme Owens has just left her beloved home (and grandmother, and best friend) behind in San Diego, and moved to the Big Apple. But her eyes aren’t starry with dreams of Broadway and everything else that New York City has to offer; Thyme is here for a different reason. Her younger brother Val (short for Valerian) has been accepted to be part of a drug trial to treat his neuroblastoma, a nerve cancer. Thyme doesn’t know how long they’ll be staying in NYC, but she has her eyes set on a quick return. The two things she most wants pull her in opposite directions. Val getting better, and a return home; can she have them both? In a way, she thinks she can. The thing is, Mom’s been giving her little slips of paper for “time” — free passes for a half hour, an hour, etc. — for her to do whatever she wants, a counterbalance for how much of her family’s time is consumed by care for Val. Thyme collects all these slips in a glass jar, hoping beyond hope that she can amass enough “time” to go back to San Diego. To go back home. Meanwhile, a life in New York city beckons. There’s a new school. New potential friends. A cute boy in class. A crotchety downstairs neighbor with a cockatoo. Ravioli — ahem, Mrs. Ravelli. The school play, The Wizard of Oz, and being in the sound crew with said cute boy. Is Thyme just biding her time? Or could she possibly find a new life here in New York City? I boarded my cross-country flight this morning with one goal. I was going to read Counting Thyme on this flight and it was going to help me pass the time! Oh, did it. As I sniffled my way through the flight — eventually I had to ask a flight attendant for some napkins to use in lieu of tissues — I became so deeply concerned with Thyme’s family, especially Thyme and Val. My heart ached for Thyme as she so often put herself second in caring for her little brother. Conklin does an amazing job of authentically portraying Thyme’s whole world, from her NYC apartment building life to the middle school experience to her sometimes fraught relationship with her older sister Cori (short for Coriander). This family felt so real for me, which of course is what led to the sniffling. Thyme is self-deprecating and funny, sometimes brave, sometime shy and awkward, but full of love and hope and fear. The fear of losing Val, of Val ending up in the hospital, of his body resisting the trial — all of that is always there, always simmering beneath the surface. Though Thyme keeps her real reason for being in NYC a secret from her peers at school, she can never keep the truth far from her own mind. This book imparted on me such a strong sense of the impact a child’s cancer can have on every member of the family, and of the varying personal reactions to this experience. Highly, highly recommended!
MGReader More than 1 year ago
This is a great book, with complex and captivating characters. Thyme Owens, the narrator, is dealing with the regular stuff of starting a new middle school — making friends, first crushes, and finding herself. But she's also dealing with an enormous family problem, and the reason they moved in the first place: her little brother has cancer, and they moved for his treatment. Thyme has to navigate petty disagreements among friends, boys, and school all while dealing with a terrible case of homesickness and the crushing fear that her brother won't survive. I especially liked the many interesting characters in this book, not only Thyme and her friends, but her flawed family, and a couple of wacky neighbors. I loved how all the characters were three dimensional with their own moods, goals, and internal stories. The author also has a wonderful way of capturing feelings, especially tough ones, in simple but meaningful words. A great read, for kids and adults alike. (I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)