Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

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.

The first ‘review’ I ever heard of this book was from this strange encounter: Several months ago, I happened to be at an event and standing (awkwardly) next to two rather prominent (and award-winning) YA authors. One mentions this title to the other and says “I don’t ever say this, but Newbery.”

This is such a first impression that I had to share it with you even if it shows my awkward eavesdropping abilities in the same go. Now that I’ve read it, I have to say, I believe Author #1. This book is flat out amazing. Even if you don’t read YA or kids books at all. Amazing.

Willow Chance is a genius who likes plants, medicine, the number 7 and maybe the only kid in the world who has lost two sets of parents. Nguyen Thi Mai is a strong-willed fourteen-year-old girl and more than willing to fight anyone else’s battles. “Pattie” Nguyen is the smart, strong woman Mai was raised from; no one says no or disrespects Pattie. Dell Duke is unmotivated and bored with his entire life; he’s always taken the easy way out on everything and has no idea he’s about to be inspired. Nguyen Quang-ha is a “troubled case”, who is slightly resentful of everything he “has.” Jairo Hernandez is just a cab driver existing from day to day, any hopes and dreams he ever have long-since faded.

It isn’t often that as I read a book, I see the amazing independent film this would make going on in my head, but interweaving six people’s beautiful lives into one fantastic story is just the thing that makes something incredible. It’s the kind of story I want to be able to write, but worry I’m not profound enough to ever do it.

Similar recommendations: Wonder by RJ Palacio, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass, and Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.

-Reviewed by Jennifer

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