CYBILS REVIEW: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
ABOUT THE BOOK
In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
Willow Chance sees the world through her own very unique point-of-view. She's an avid gardener, obsessed with disease, and loves to count by 7s. But when she loses her adoptive parents in a car crash, her world is shattered. With no relatives to take her, Willow's life becomes full of the temporary; a temporary place to stay (the home of a friend which turns out to be a garage), a temporary break from school, and a temporary, and a temporary sense of family. As Willow struggles to make sense of a world she doesn't understand she finds herself connecting to those around her in new ways. And surprisingly enough, the genius finds herself touching the lives of others in surprisingly permanent ways.
Strengths: Willow as a character stands out very clearly. Her strengths and weaknesses are demonstrated in the very text of the story. The text is made up of very short, precise paragraphs, some only a sentence long. This makes for a very straight-forward account of what Willow and those around her experience. The secondary characters also stand out; Mai, the fiery girl who Willow befriends, Mai's troubled brother , Quang-ha, who hates his life and doesn't like Willow, at least at first. Even the adults are quirky and interesting, especially the taxi driver Willow gives advice to, Pattie (Mai's and Quang-ha's mother), and Dell Duke, the school counselor.
Weaknesses: This story is very introspective and most of the action is gradual and involves internal struggles manifested through external actions. Many kids may not stick with it because of the lack of direct action. The characters are also a bit strange, too strange for some readers. However, I have no doubt that there is a readership for this book, however small it might be (child readers, adults are already loving this).