Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
I’ve spent considerable time this summer reading books intended for a younger audience. I continue to be surprised by the breadth of choices and the intriguing stories to be found in selections for young adults.
Willow Chance is a mixed race, twelve-year old, adopted by “two of the whitest white people in the world”. Consequently she feels like she doesn’t quite belong despite her parent’s best efforts. She also happens to be a genius obsessed with medical conditions, gardening, and the number 7. Not exactly the interests of the kids at the popular table, but she is absolutely doted on by her adoptive parents.
We meet Willow in the company of Dell Duke, a hapless school district behavioral counselor, and two siblings from a different school, Mai and Quang-ha. The four barely know each other, but are together when they receive the news Willow’s parents were killed in a car crash. Willow is rescued temporarily from emergency foster care by Pattie, the mother of Mai and Quang-ha. A taxi driver named Jairo rounds out this multi-cultural group of characters. He drives Willow to her counseling sessions and various other places. Jairo sees Willow as a mystic, due to some medical instructions she provided – not to mention some misinterpreted career advice.
What follows is how a group of unlikely friends are brought together to form a faux family, and are subsequently transformed into better versions of themselves. All events lead up to Willow’s family court hearing where the judge will assign her to a permanent foster home.
In a world of vampires and dystopia, uplifting sadly sometimes seems out of place. Yes, there are things about this story, which as an adult reader I found to be implausible; however those same things might inspire hope in a middle-grade student who feels they don’t belong. I think readers will truly relate to these characters struggling to find their place in the world.
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