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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Counting by 7s, written by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Dial Books, Penguin. 2013. $18.00 ages 10 and up

"I go to sleep early but I wake up every hour. In the morning I decide that I've done a disservice to myself in terms of my physical achievement. This is another way of saying that since no one thinks being motionless for hours is any kind of sport, I'm very challenged, athletically speaking. I think exposure to something new can't help but generate interest, even if you feel out of it and on your own planet."

As I neared the end of this book, I wondered if I should just stop...just stop and take in all the emotions I was experiencing and WAIT. There are times when I just don't want to say goodbye to characters who have found a place in my heart and mind. Counting by 7s is quietly amazing.

Willow Chance is a singular character whose impact is felt not only by those who people this remarkable read but, by those who have the great pleasure of sharing her story on their own, or in the company of their reading community. She is a genius as evidenced in every single first person narrative chapter. Her voice is clear, focused, often unemotional, and evolving. She has extraordinary intelligence. She is a gardener, loving plants and the peace they bring. She is an orphan. She is obsessed by the number 7. She studies and has a great understanding of a variety of medical conditions. There is a magic about her as you will discover when you read her story.

When she aces a state-wide test at a new school, her principal assumes she has cheated and sends her to be counseled by Dell Duke. A more inept counselor you may never have met. He categorizes the young people he works with, and has many personal issues himself:

"He started by saying that he didn't want to discuss my test scores.
But that's all he talked about.
For a long time, I didn't say a single word.
And that made him talk more.
About a lot of nothing.
It was hot in his stuffy little office and as I stared at him, I could see that he was sweating up a storm."

It is while Willow is waiting to see Mr. Duke that she meets Mai Nguyen, a teenager who is waiting for her brother to finish his own session with the counselor. The three form a bit of a friendship, and they are together when they learn that Willow's adoptive parents have been killed in a tragic accident. Mai's mother agrees to take Willow into their home until something permanent can be arranged. Quang-ha, her brother, is not pleased to be sharing his life with three women, but he adapts.

In her bid to figure out how a new family works, Willow makes many astute observations. She also acts as unwitting agent of change for the Nguyen family, for Jairo Hernandez and for Dell Duke. Each one will find their lives changed forever by a wondrous twelve-year-old.  She has so many obstacles to overcome; she perseveres and becomes forever memorable to those who read her story.

"I have my own system of order.
I think that at every stage of living, there are 7 people who matter in your world.
They are the people who are inside you.
They are the people you rely on.
They are the people who daily change your life."

I really like the way the author switches from third person to first person narration. In talking with a friend about it, we agreed that it makes Willow's brilliance easier for middle grade readers to understand and empathize with everything she is...quirky, smart, silent observer, and heartbroken.
I have waited two and a half years since reading I'll Be There (Little Brown, 2011) for this glorious new book. It was worth every month, every day, every minute that I waited. I wonder how long it will be until the next time Holly Goldberg Sloan introduces us to cast of characters whose story is sure to change us as readers?

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