Wednesday, December 4, 2013

REVIEW: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg SloanTitle: Counting by 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan Website Facebook Twitter
Publisher: Dial
Release Date: August 29,2013
Pages: 384
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: 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.

First Thoughts: Beautiful story with a beautiful voice! All the Willows of the world - misunderstood kids experiencing nothing but heartbreak - deserve an ending like Willow Chance’s.

I completely understand the long list of awards for this book: An Amazon Best Book of the Year. A B.E.A. BUZZ BOOK 2013. A Junior Library Guild Selection. A Kids Indie Next List #4 of Top Ten Autumn 2013. A Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee 2014-2015 Master List. It’s a beautifully written middle grade book that crosses over into young adult and even adult (I sure enjoyed it).

Although this book is realistic fiction, I’m not sure how believable it is - there are a lot of inconsistencies and predictable moments - and yet,  I don’t really think that matters. What matters is Willow, and she is wonderful. Loved, loved, loved her voice throughout the novel. As I read her story, I could picture her in many of my misunderstood students (I also feel like Willow is on the spectrum even though it’s never explicitly stated). Students who socially struggle, students with unstable home lives, students who are too smart for their own good - Willow embodies all of them.

To me, the most beautiful piece of the novel is its unlikely relationships. Willow, Dell (her counselor), Pattie (foster-like mother), Mai (happen-chance friend), and Mai’s brother (who just might be my favorite character) come together to form the most unlikely of families. And, their message about family is why I loved this book so much: family isn’t about blood, family is about who you love, trust, and rely on. So, even though Willow’s story is a heartbreaker, the ending is one of beauty and joy (sorry for the spoiler).

I suppose I can’t say it much better than the list below. Here are seven reasons why you should read Counting by 7s (from the publisher). I wholeheartedly agree with all of them, especially number 7 (fitting, right?):

  1. Friendship.  It doesn't always happen easily, especially for Willow.  But now she has met Mai, a girl with enough energy to tackle the impossible, and one who sees Willow for who she really is.
  2. Oddballs. We all feel like outsiders sometimes.  Willow the genius -- who has mastered several foreign languages and medical-school textbooks all by the age of twelve -- certainly doesn't easily fit in with the crowd.  Neither do the other people in this story filled with terrific, memorable oddballs.
  3. Hobbies.  It helps to have something interesting to focus on, such as Willow's passion for nature.  When tragedy strikes, it is the simple act of growing sunflowers that first brings her some pleasure again.
  4. Laughing and crying. But despite the tragedy, this is a beautiful, satisfying book -- the kind that makes you see your own life in a new way.  And through the heartache, you will find yourself laughing -- at the wonderfully absurd moments that happen even on the hardest days.
  5. Miracles.  Those unexpectedly silly moments are miraculous.  This is a story filled with everyday miracles.
  6. Family.  And the most miraculous thing of all is a loving family.
  7. Willow Chance herself, whose heart leads her on a path to belonging -- a path that is surprising, exhilarating, and without a doubt, one you will never forget.

Final Thoughts: One of those books with a character that simply touches your heart! You can’t help but fall in love with Willow and root for the happy ending she so deserves!

Who Should Read It? Although it’s technically a middle grade book, I think it has mass appeal for readers of all ages. It’s a heartfelt story that connects on so many levels. I know I’ll be adding it to my high school classroom library. Fans of Wonder should add this to their TBR list. It doesn’t have a lot of action and adventure, but it’s a beautiful look at life through some unlikely characters.

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