“Most secrets we hide even from ourselves.”
Counting Wolves is a book exploring what fear can do to us. How it can impact us and effect us in ways we don’t expect.
Milly has to count to one hundred to walk through doorways. And speak. And take a bite. Which is a problem to everyone. But they don’t understand that Milly does it to keep the wolf at bay. If she doesn’t, the wolf will be unleashed and hurt everyone.
Her step-mother has her committed to an adolescent psych ward after Milly faints in her gym class. Here, she is surrounded by other fairy tales come to life, and is forced to deal with witches and toads who run the floor. Milly realizes that counting here isn’t as strong, and has to learn how to use new weapons to fight her wolf.
The story is a unique take on mental illness. Sometimes when we envision how an illness manifests, or what can trigger certain behaviors, we see it from the outside. Here, we are thrown into Milly’s mind and have to work to unravel the real from the fantasy along with Milly. While it wouldn’t happen as quickly in real life, the message is still effective.
We also are able to see how mental illness can develop in an adolescent. At that age, trying to figure out what’s real and what’s in our head is a struggle without trauma, or compulsions, or outside stressors impacting us. Milly doesn’t quite capture everything right about OCD or trauma induced compulsive behavior. Personally, I feel that the short timeline made it feel more unrealistic and forced than the author intended. No one can stop behaviors in a week that have been reinforced and reenacted for years. It simply isn’t realistic. However, in terms of facing the fairy tale, it works.
As far as other characters, I absolutely adored Vanet. I think his depiction of manic behavior was accurate and his personality added some humor to the heaviness and darkness of the subject matter. I would have liked to have seen a down episode, as manic-depressive behavior is never all ups, but the timeline of a week made that difficult from a plot perspective.
“Maybe he is the fairy godmother. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who actually seems to believe anything is possible.”
The one problem I had with the novel, was the psych ward didn’t seem realistic. I do have some knowledge in this area, and the behaviors of the staff just wouldn’t happen, in my experience and opinion. Some of the details regarding the other patients, also didn’t ring quite true, but they were minor and I understand their relevance to the story.
Overall I did enjoy the story. The depiction of mental illness wasn’t 100% right in detail, but the feel of how terrifying it is was right. Having thoughts you can’t control and compulsions you can’t stop is overwhelming and frightening at any age. Our minds always try and create an explanation, and using fairy tales was a good way to show that.
I also really enjoyed how Milly’s parents were depicted. They were set up to be uncaring, or even part of the problem, and really the author did a nice job showing their support. Even more, Dr. Balder was depicted as a caring psychiatrist, with Milly’s progress as his priority. I think that having Milly surrounded with this love and support is important in talking about mental health. It removes the idea that getting help has to be problematic, and sends a fantastic message about relying on others and accepting help.
For anyone looking for a way to understand how mental illness can sometimes look and feel, this book gets the panic and the fear right. Counting Wolves sends all the right messages about not just what fear and the spiral into compulsive behaviors can look like, but also about getting help and accepting support.
“Fear is the mind-killer.”
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Counting Wolves is available now. Synopsis and links are below! Once again, thank you to Xpresso Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book!
Michael F. Stewart
Publication date: August 14th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
The Breakfast Club meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales in the lair of an adolescent psych ward.
Milly’s evil stepmother commits her to a pediatric psych ward. That’s just what the wolf wants. With bunk mates like Red, who’s spiraling out of control; Pig, a fire-bug who claims Milly as her own—but just wants extra dessert—Vanet, a manic teen masquerading as a fairy godmother with wish-granting powers as likely to kill as to help; and the mysterious Wolfgang, rumored to roam for blood at night; it doesn’t take long for Milly to realize that only her dead mother’s book of tales can save her.
But Milly’s spells of protection weaken as her wolf stalks the hospital corridors. The ward’s a Dark Wood, and she’s not alone. As her power crumbles, she must let go of her magic and discover new weapons if she is to transform from hunted to hunter.
Michael F. Stewart is winner of both the 2015 Claymore Award and the 2014 inaugural Creation of Stories Award for best YA novel at the Toronto International Book Fair.
He likes to combine storytelling with technology and pioneered interactive storytelling with Scholastic Canada, Australia, and New Zealand’s, anti-cyberbullying program Bully For You. In addition to his award winning Assured Destruction series, he has authored four graphic novels with Oxford University Press Canada’s Boldprint series. Publications of nonfiction titles on Corruption and Children’s Rights are published by Scholastic and early readers are out with Pearson Education.
For adults, Michael has written THE SAND DRAGON a horror about a revenant prehistoric vampire set in the tar sands, HURAKAN a Mayan themed thriller which pits the Maya against the MS-13 with a New York family stuck in the middle, 24 BONES an urban fantasy which draws from Egyptian myth, and THE TERMINALS–a covert government unit which solves crimes in this realm by investigating them in the next.
Herder of four daughters, Michael lives to write in Ottawa where he was the Ottawa Public Library’s first Writer in Residence. To learn more about Michael and his next projects visit his website at http://www.michaelfstewart.com or connect via Twitter @MichaelFStewart.
Michael is represented by Talcott Notch.