Counting Thyme

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Counting Thyme Book Poster Image
Sensitive, engaging tale of girl with seriously ill brother.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The author skillfully weaves in scientific info about the disease of neuroblastoma and its treatment, and about antibodies and how they work. There's a section on stagecraft and sound effects, with info on how the brain processes and stores sounds, and lingo of the theater: stage right and left, downstage, upstage. In a scene with an apartment fire, there's talk of fire safety and how to escape smoke by crawling and keeping low. Some Italian words sprinkled in from Italian woman hired to care for Thyme while parents are at the hospital, and an introduction to Jewish foods from a downstairs neighbor.

Positive Messages

When one member of a family has difficulties, family members pull together to help. It's human and natural to have conflicting feelings, and helpful to recognize and articulate them. Friendships can go through rough patches, but communicating helps preserve them. Moving to a new school can be difficult, but there are always people who reach out and help. Parents may be caring for us even when it seems they're distracted by siblings with stronger needs. Even the Queen Bees in school have strong friendships and care about people.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Thyme is an excellent role model in that she shoulders a lot of responsibility for the family since her brother is seriously ill. She willingly pitches in with chores, stays connected to her brother emotionally, and helps cheer him up. She takes responsibility for making her own way in a new school, stays alert to possibilities for friendships, involves herself in school activities, while also keeping actively in touch with her old friend. She's perceptive about her own feelings and those of others. She reaches out to a downstairs neighbor who's elderly and cranky. The older Italian woman hired to cook and watch the kids is warm and caring. The parents are loving even though they're often upset and distracted by Val's illness, and all the family members make sacrifices to care for the member who's most in need.


Bully targets Thyme with some mild insults when she's new to school, though that subsides quickly and new friends rally to support her. Brother's treatment for neuroblastoma has painful side effects and we see him in frequent distress. There's a fire in a downstairs apartment for which fire fighters come, and in which a pet bird that we've met in previous scenes dies from smoke inhalation.


Narrator has crush on a classmate. She feels awkward and fluttery around him, develops a real friendship with him over time. A boy kisses a girl on the cheek once.


High school sister says "bull." Some mild insults from bully at school and from high school sister, who calls Thyme "loser bait" and "loser" when she herself is upset.


Mention of brands for scene setting: iPad, Wii, Minecraft.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Elderly downstairs neighbor drinks champagne to celebrate deceased wife's birthday.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin is about 11-year old Thyme Owens and her family who relocate from San Diego to New York City so her 5-year-old brother, Val, can get treatment for a rare form of cancer. There's some medical information, technical but comprehensible, about neuroblastoma and its treatment, and Val experiences some painful side effects. The family's stressed and stretched but pulls together for the sake of its youngest member. Woven into this medical story is an adjustment and growth story for narrator Thyme, who yearns to be back home with her best friend but slowly integrates into her new middle school, making new friends and getting involved in the life of her new community.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bygrandmareader December 2, 2018

A younger brother with neuroblastoma

This is a very good book about a very difficult subject. Thyme has to reach into her heart to help her cancer-riddled little brother who is undergoing treatment... Continue reading
Adult Written byKELLY E. August 10, 2018

Several Good Themes of Change and Sacrifice

I enjoyed my preview read of this book for my students. None of the themes were beyond their age range, and I did care about the characters enough to feel emoti...
Teen, 15 years old Written byseasha January 7, 2019

Amazing book!

I absolutely love this book! It has great messages, educational value, great role models, and just family love. In the book, Thyme moves to New york so her litt... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bydelphinium_1401 July 19, 2018

Counting Thyme Review

Counting Thyme is a spellbinding novel, I have read it too many thymes (hahahaha) already. It is a tale of finding yourself even in the shadows of despair. It i... Continue reading

What's the story?

In COUNTING THYME, 11-year-old Thyme and her family move from San Diego to New York City so her little brother Val who has neuroblastoma, a form of cancer, can be in a clinical trial for treatment. Val's physically vulnerable, and the parents, while loving, are understandably consumed with his care, leaving Thyme to adjust to a new school and to the big city, where people live in housing that's more compact than she's used to, and travel by subway, which feels overwhelming. The story follows her arrival at a public middle school just after Thanksgiving through her grwoing acceptance of her new home as the second semester unfolds. It weaves medical information about the disease into the story, with family scenes at home and chapters set in school in which Thyme deals with typical middle school concerns such as friendships, cliques, crushes, and involvement in a school play. As Thyme adjusts, she manages to keep an old friend in California while making new friends and forging a new life in New York.

Is it any good?

A girl deals with her brother's serious illness in this sensitively written, fully fleshed out middle-grade novel that's both a portrait of a family under stress and an engaging coming-of-age story. There's some technical medical information, skillfully explained, about the boy's cancer and his treatments. The stresses on the family are credibly written -- the parents, though loving, are consumed with the boy's care, so Thyme and her teen sister, Cori, get short shrift.

The family story's braided with chapters that will resonate more broadly with readers and their everyday experiences. Thyme has to adjust to her new public middle school, where she encounters mild bullying, cliques, a Queen Bee and the girls who buzz around her, and also experiences her first crush and the seeds of new friendships we know will blossom. The portraits of this girl, her family, and New York City, are very real, and the tone is hopeful. The moving takeaway is that families need to pull together to help their most vulnerable members.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how families deal with difficulties. How do Thyme and her family deal with Val's illness? How do they work together? Has your family had difficulties? How have you pulled together?

  • People who are difficult to deal with. How does Thyme deal with others she's wary of: Mr. Lipinksy, Emily, Darien? How do those relationships change over time?

  • How does the author use seasonal clues and holidays -- Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day -- to signal the passage of time?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stong girls and middle school stories

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