Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Group
Published August 29, 2013
A car accident changes everything for Willow, a twelve year-old prodigy. Her family is gone and she is at the mercy of the state’s resources for childcare. As she pulls together the paths of her life that have led her to this tragedy, she reaches out to the only friend she has: a young Vietnamese girl whose brother shares the same guidance counselor as Willow does.
Mai convinces her mother to care for the girl and fight for long-term custody. At first, the sole proprietor of a nail salon resists her daughter’s urging, but she can’t help but be captured by Willow’s grief and loneliness. Together she and the guidance counselor, Mr. Dell Duke, weave a web of support around the lost but brilliant girl and the loose association quickly becomes a community which, like Willow’s incredible public garden project, grows into a family.
Willow’s stunning and awkward brilliance sets her apart from other kids. Where her parents nurtured and understood her quirks and intelligence, much of the rest of the world seems intimidated and annoyed by it. Willow struggles to cope by digging deeper into knowledge, her one comfort.
While she often fumbles through social situations, Willow is deeply self-aware. She often recognizes when she offends her companions and quickly works to right the situation. Her awkwardness is so endearing and her desire to please and earn affection can’t help but charm even the hardest hearts, but her social awareness almost makes her too perfect. A struggle to correct or repair the fallout of failed social moments may have provided additional conflict and character development as well as an essential, though admittedly predictable flaw.
The story itself is filled with warmth and realism without losing itself to controversial language or situations. The protagonist’s youth recommends her to younger readers, but the complexity of the characters’ relationships makes this a valuable read for both middle school and high school students. Counting by 7s reminds us of the power of community and in caring for one another, regardless of family connections or racial differences. This is a book not to be missed.
None, though at the end of the story, two adult characters make plans to live together unmarried.