Countless by Karen Gregory

Received from NetGalley for review.

Countless is a heart-breaking story; it ripped my heart out and didn’t entirely put it back. It tells the story of a very troubled girl, seventeen-year-old Hedda, who has been in and out of hospital most of her life for anorexia and now finds herself pregnant. I imagine it’s hard enough being pregnant without being so young, living in a grubby flat because your parents don’t want your ‘corrupting influence’ on your younger sister, and being in the throes of a mental illness that doesn’t want to let go. It’s not a pleasant story but it is an important one that doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of mental illness and teen pregnancy.

I felt so deeply for Hedda – she’s young, angry at the world, defensive, and missing her best friend, all whilst dealing with mental illness and pregnancy. She finds out she’s pregnant (nearly five months) following a one night stand and decides to follow through with the pregnancy, intending to have the baby adopted. She makes a deal with anorexia, which she personifies as ‘Nia’, to eat just enough until the baby has been born and then continue as she was. She has so much to deal with but I found it admirable that she tried to put aside her issues to nourish her baby – it’s not all sunshine and daisies but she really tries, and it reminded me that there’s always something more to a person than we can see and to not judge so fast.

The book really shows the horrible way eating disorders can work – you know it’s causing problems, and you try to pull yourself out of it, but it’s your normal, it’s your control, and there’s a comfort in that, even if it’s not healthy. Anorexia is Hedda’s normal, something she’s dealt with most of her life, and even though it’s damaged her relationship with her family, her body, and her education, it’s something that’s always been there with her. Through the narrative we get insights into her time on the wards and what she thought was ‘good’ and ‘bad’ about it – Hedda slowly realises that there were aspects of life of life on the unit that she enjoyed and missed, and gradually realises things about her battle with anorexia that she had always refused to see.

Although I found this book overwhelmingly sad, there is hope – I won’t go into too much detail but the ending does give a glimmer of hope, which is much needed after the heart wrenching events of the novel. Some might find this book too much – too much sadness and hardship – but that is reality; life is hard and mental illness is harder, and a seventeen-year-old who is suffering from anorexia and pregnant is not going to have an overwhelmingly happy story. I personally found it to be incredibly realistic and honest (something that was reinforced in the Author’s Note at the end), and I was glad that it didn’t end with a ‘happily ever after’ scenario, as those generally do only belong in fairy tales.

Read: February 13th 2017

4/5 stars


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