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Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj – Book Review

  • Title: Count Me In
  • Author: Varsha Bajaj
  • Publisher: Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books
  • Release Date: August 27, 2019

RATING: 4 STARS

Karina and Chris may be next door neighbors but they also might as well live on opposite sides of the country. Their interactions are few and far between. As a result, each develop a multitude of assumptions about the other. When Karina’s grandfather moves in, he becomes a bridge between her and Chris. Their friendship blooms, but a hateful attack on Karina’s grandfather brings them even closer together. While Karina’s grandfather recovers from the cowardly, racist assault, Karina and Chris grapple with their worlds being turned upside down. Through the turmoil, both become advocates for good, rallying others to define what it truly means to be American.

Varsha Bajaj’s novel, Count Me In, has all the ingredients of a great novel: compelling characters, suspenseful conflict, captivating perspectives, real-life connections, and a necessary and important message. Yet, at times, the execution of some of these elements falls flat. Karina and Chris’ alternating perspectives effectively build suspense and highlight each character’s unique experiences, so much so that by the end of the novel, the two characters seemed to become one. This effect detracted from the characters’ unique experiences and individual growth, both of which would have been worthwhile to explore after each endured a life-alternating event. In addition, Bajaj’s more formal writing style clashed with the narrative’s realistic plot. One consequence of this formal style may be that readers find the novel more robotic than real. In other words, the narrative drily retells events rather than bringing them to life in a colorful fashion. The style becomes a distraction to the story, possibly impeding the book’s important message from moving readers. Still, Count Me In does send a clear and important message to its readers: We are all American and our diversity is our strength. This message will resonate, especially students in upper elementary grades that are at a moment in life where they are constantly searching to find where they best belong.

Classroom Applications

  • Cross-curricular Study – Teach the novel in conjunction with a nonfiction study of social media.
  • Book Club or Book Exchange – Share the novel with students that enjoy reading realistic fiction and novels about current events.

Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.

  • Social media
  • Hashtags
  • Current Events and Contemporary Issues
  • Stereotypes and Racism

Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with Count Me In. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.

  • Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Character Connections, Thematic Connections, Nonfiction Connections)
  • Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (Character Connections, Thematic Connections, Nonfiction Connections)

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