counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance didn’t fit in well at her elementary school, so she is attending a middle school across town which none of her previous classmates will be attending.  But Willow is just not made to fit in with others.  She does fine with her adoptive parents who are accepting of her obsession with gardening and medical conditions as long as she doesn’t tell them everything since that would make them worry.  And one of the things she doesn’t tell them is that the middle school thinks that she cheated on a major standardized test because she got a perfect score.  So she is sent to counseling though Dell, the school counselor has no idea what to do to help her.  Two siblings who also go to see Dell have their own ideas though and that is how Willow comes to be out driving with Dell and the others when she finds out that her parents have been killed in a car accident.  Now Willow has lost her parents, her home, her garden and her will to explore.  This is a story that is about community, building your family one person at a time, and the wonder of what having people in your life that care can do.  It is the story of the amazing Willow Chase.

Sloan’s writing verges on verse at times with its short lines, lined up neatly and speaking profoundly and honestly.  It is writing that examines and explores but also moves the story forward at speed.  It is imminently readable with plenty of white space and few if any dense paragraphs of text.  Rather it has a wonderful lightness about it, even when describing tragedy.  And this book is filled with loss and grief that is handled with a gentle depth.  Yet it is also a book filled with joy and overcoming odds and inspiration. 

Sloan creates not just one incredible character in this novel but an entire group of them.  At first the book seems disjointed with the various perspectives shown, since we get to see things not only from Willow’s point of view, from the other teens, but also from the adults as well.  But those disparate parts come together in a way that a book from just Willow’s point of view never could have.  They add an understanding of Willow’s appeal to others that would not have been possible without it.

This is a tragic story with an indomitable heroine that will leave you smiling through the tears.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.