review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Some authors just know what they are doing. Holly Goldberg Sloan is one of them. In April 2012 I read I’ll Be There, a heart-gripping story of two boys on the run from their abusive and psychotic father. Their interaction with the beautifully composed character named Emily made for a novel with staying power. Sloan did it again with Counting by 7s, this time using a quirky adopted girl and her crew of equally-quirky friends.

Willow Chance is a young lady with gumption, questions, and a penchant for the number 7 and the color red. Adopted as a baby, Willow’s parents support her inquisitiveness to the point of letting her turn their backyard into a full and lush garden. She is a character full of humor, despite not meaning to be. Luckily Sloan never lets her readers laugh at Willow, but just chuckle at her candidness.

Everyone else orders spicy pickled tongue sandwiches. I don’t eat meat. And organ meat is a whole other category of stuff I wouldn’t want to chew.

When we are finished they bring us each a bowl of vanilla ice cream and sprinkles on top. The girl next to me starts to cry when she sees the sprinkles. I’m wondering if she’s worried about the long-term side effects of consuming artificial food coloring. It’s a valid concern.

But tragedy strikes, leaving her without her parents, her garden, and everything she loved.

Are you looking for something?‘ I want to say that yes, I’m looking for anything that could make a world gone flat return to its original shape…

Luckily, a crew of unlikely characters find their way into Willow’s world, giving her a reason to get up, then a reason to garden, then a reason to ask questions again. The Nguyen family is realistic, but not so fully-formed that they take away from Willow, or even the oddest character I’ve read in a while – school counselor Dell Duke.

I don’t want to know how you did it. I want to believe that you’re magic.

Willow’s ruminations on life are  sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious. In real life, I imagine I would sometimes find her annoying – but characters are real people, and real people are annoying sometimes. It’s likely, though, that I would adore her and want to care for her like Ms. Nguyen does.

Recommended for:
Fans of Rainbow Rowell’s works might enjoy this for its realism. Also, if a teen is looking to read about death, either as a way to cope or to learn more about the grieving process, this would be a good book to pick up.

I recently read Bridge to Terabithia for the first time ever (yes, ever) and found similarities in the two novels. Death, from the perspective of a young person with no experience with the topic, is dealt with in a sensitive but realistic manner.

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