Neuroblastoma. Cancer. These are scary words for grown-ups and for children. Counting Thyme is a story about how a five year old brother’s cancer affects a family and changes the members of the family and eventually how those changes make them stronger and more bonded. (Of course, a crisis can tear a family apart, but in this story, in spite of realistic and ongoing struggles and misunderstandings, the family members grow in love and empathy for one another.)
Eleven year old Thyme, the main character, is deeply concerned for her little brother, Val, who is undergoing treatment for neuroblastoma, nerve cancer. She would give almost anything for him to get well again, but she doesn’t really understand why her family has to move from California to New York City for Val to get well. Thyme’s parents are well meaning, but totally absorbed in supporting and caring for Val, and they don’t want to tell Thyme and her older sister Coriander (yes, cute names) too much about what is happening with Val so that the girls won’t worry too much. Of course, Thyme and Cori do worry a lot, and each girl has to find a way to deal with the move and with all the tension at home as they acclimate to a new city and to new schools.
There is a pre-teen “romance” in the book, but it’s handled tastefully and innocently. Thyme has a crush on a boy in her new school, and the two children get to know each other and eventually become friends. One innocent peck on the cheek and some blushing and gushy feelings make up the rest of the relationship, but if that’s too much for your middle grade reader, you’ll want to skip this one.
If you do skip it, sad to say, you’ll miss out on a slow, heartfelt story about adjusting to harsh realities and learning to give and receive love and concern from your family even when times are hard. The family interactions are very real and tender, and so are the friendships that Thyme had to leave behind and the ones she forms in her new city. Thyme herself is something of an introvert, self-contained, but confident and empathetic, especially when it comes to helping cheer or distract Val when he’s having a bad day. And Val is the cutest little cancer patient I’ve ever met, maybe a little too good to be true, but so likable and sweet.