Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Counting to D by Kate Scott

The kids at Sam’s school never knew if they should make fun of her for being too smart or too dumb. That’s what it means to be dyslexic, smart, and illiterate. Sam is sick of it. So when her mom gets a job in a faraway city, Sam decides not to tell anyone about her little illiteracy problem. Without her paradox of a reputation, she falls in with a new group of highly competitive friends who call themselves the Brain Trust. When she meets Nate, her charming valedictorian lab partner, she declares her new reality perfect. But in order to keep it that way, she has to keep her learning disability a secret. The books are stacked against her and so are the lies. Sam’s got to get the grades, get the guy, and get it straight—without being able to read.

“Counting to D” by Kate Scott is the most enjoyable educational book I have ever read!    Samantha is a 15 year-old dyslexic girl who is uprooted from the life she knows in San Diego from her close and supportive friends and well-organized academic regimen – to Oregon, where her mother has found a new job.    Right away, the reader is introduced to Sam’s unique coping techniques and behaviors as she struggles with her changing world and the challenge of finding her niche in a new place.   “Counting to D” does a good job of explaining dyslexia and what it can be like for someone to excel academically even with that limitation, using specialized educational methods and tools.  It is also good at showing the complexity of negotiating the teen years (with its requisite angst and peer pressure) within the context of having a special educational need.    At times, Sam’s voice does seem too sophisticated for a 15 year-old protagonist.   However, the mix of woeful teen and Expert may just be the best way to convey the complexity of learning disabilities and the way they are experienced and accommodated for in real life.   

Sam’s new life has more than the usual “how-do-I-fit-in” type of blues: she quickly becomes embroiled in an academic/intelligence class struggle at her new school.  She is immediately identified as a “smart” kid and soon finds her place at the academic elitist lunch table, where the brainiacs routinely compare test scores and turn their noses up at all other academic contenders.  Sam is bewildered to find herself torn between the ease of fitting in and the constant struggle to not be “outed” as a “Special Ed kid”.   

One of the main things I appreciate about “Counting to D” is Scott’s portrayal of Sam.  There is no clear physical description of her, outside of her hair color.  Sam does undergo a “make over” by one of her new Oregon friends, but there is no minutely outlined explication of what Sam actually looks like.  This is very refreshing, especially in light of the propensity to reduce women and girls to their physical appearance.  Instead, you get detailed descriptions of how Sam’s mind works and how she uses her audio graphic memory to overcome her inability to read. 

It is obvious that the writer is not merely regurgitating what she may have picked up about learning disabilities along the way, but has lived the experience -- Kate Scott was indeed diagnosed with dyslexia as a child.  “Counting to D” was an enlightening and enjoyable read, which reminds us that each of us has gifts to share. 

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Malaika

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