The Countdown by M.J. McIsaac

Review by Shubhdeep Kaur Gill

Orca Book Publishers, February 14, 2023

80 pages, Paperback, $10.96 CAD, 9781459835351

Ages 12+

Mystery, Coming-Of-Age

What do you want from me?

What will everyone think when  they find out you lied?

What do you WANT?

I want to play.

This isn’t a game!  This is my life you’re messing with.

Ah, but it is a game, wonder boy. My game. So listen up. I have planned a little scavenger hunt for you. If you can find all the items, I will give you the image file

What if I can’t ?

Well, grad is in 6 hours. If you don’t  complete my game by then…

Then what?

Then I’ll post the picture online. And everyone will know the truth.

Better hurry, Myles.

Your future is at stake.

We all have secrets. Myles—captain of the rugby team, valedictorian, and all-around golden boy—has many of his own. Secrets that threaten his future. When he gets some ominous texts from a mysterious sender called “O” on graduation day, he’s sent on a scavenger hunt all across town where he is forced to remember his past wrongdoings and face the people he has hurt along the way, all while trying to make it to grad to give the speech he hasn’t written yet.

The Countdown by M.J. McIsaac is a fast-paced mystery—told mostly through text messages—that keeps readers glued to the book with every sentence. I found myself coming up with theories on who “O” could be and read the book within an hour because I didn’t want to put it down. With each new character that is introduced, we get a better sense of who Myles is as a person, as well as a new suspect for the mystery at hand.

On the topic of characters, McIsaac writes some of the most relatable characters I’ve ever read about, using the text message form to give them realistic teen voices. Somehow even with the abundance of characters introduced in such a short span of time, the story never feels crowded or confusing—each character simply adds to the world in a way that feels very real and tangible.

The relatability of The Countdown doesn’t end at just the characters, though—McIsaac incorporates themes of love, friendship, fear of failure, and the desire to be accepted by peers—aspects of growing up which I think we can all remember experiencing. The Countdown is not just a mystery, it’s a coming-of-age story, one that teaches the valuable lesson of facing our past mistakes headfirst so that we can become better people. A story that, at its very core, is about not letting the fear of failure stop us from seeing what truly matters: persevering with the people we care about by our side.

The Countdown is a book that speaks to the teenage experience through an engaging and thrilling mystery plot. McIsaac skillfully tells this story in an 80-page book and not once does the short format take away from the heart of the story or the emotional connection the reader has with Myles. I would recommend this book to any teen who feels unsure about their place in the world or as though they need to pretend to be someone they’re not. If there is any message you can take away from this story, it’s that being true to yourself is the only way to truly mature and grow.

Shubhdeep Kaur Gill is a first-year student at UBC, hoping to study creative writing. She has had an interest for reading since her sister started teaching her the alphabet and has since developed an equal interest for writing as well. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found painting, playing guitar, or procrastinating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s