Title: Counting by 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Publisher: Dial Books (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 6 days
Goodreads synopsis: 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.
I really wanted to give this book five stars. Counting by 7s is so close to being perfect. Willow Chance is an amazing girl, and I wish I could adopt her myself. Mai and Quang-ha and Pattie are all amazing too, and together they make such a beautiful and diverse family. Despite my typical reservations on this topic, I loved the change in perspectives. You would think it would be so weird and complicated switching from first person present tense to third person past tense and back, but it worked so flawlessly. It was perfect for this book, though I probably wouldn’t encourage other writers to use it. It seems like the type of thing that can only work in very specific books. I am also impressed by all the research that must have gone into this Counting by 7s, from the Vietnamese language to types of plants.
A lot of reviewers on Goodreads feel like the ending wrapped itself up a little too neatly. I see their point, but I think a lot of these people are forgetting that they’re reading a book for children. Neat, happy endings are okay. I do agree with one thing, though (spoiler ahead): Pattie let her kids live in a garage when she had the money to buy a whole apartment building, and that doesn’t make sense. Well, I see how it could make sense. I can relate to living in conditions that I don’t need to live in in an attempt to save money so that I can live in much better conditions in the future, but I don’t understand why Pattie wouldn’t let her kids at least live somewhere normal, but she’ll buy the whole building for Willow, whom she’s known for a few months. A lot of people are saying, and it feels natural to do so, that she’s doing this for Willow when she won’t even do it for her actual kids, but as a future adoptive parent, I don’t like that language, because an adopted child is just as much that person’s child as their biological children. But I still think it doesn’t add up for her to do that upon the addition of Willow to her family and not before. I think it would have been just as easy and just as satisfying to have Pattie decide to move them all into an apartment, and the money could have come from the increase in customers at the nail salon due to Willow’s changes.
That’s part of what brought my rating down–not so much what happened at the end but more the fact that a more believable but just as happy ending was so easy. But the other thing that brought my rating down was Dell Duke. A lot of this is my own bias: I don’t trust men with children. I realize that Dell doesn’t actually do any harm to Willow, but in my experience, men, especially men like Dell, are careless, and they can’t see past themselves and are therefore incapable of helping others. I realize how this statement could be interpreted as “unfair” because “not all men” blah blah blah, but I don’t really care. Dell made me very uncomfortable. He should not have had those children in his car, and he should not have taken them out to eat despite the fact that that’s what they wanted to do. He was beyond unprofessional and irresponsible as a guidance counsellor. I don’t care how much he was “redeemed” at the end. He creeped me out.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I would recommend it to pretty much anyone. I think it would have been an inspirational read for me as a middle schooler, and I wish I could send it back in time to my twelve-year-old self. As for my twenty-two-year-old self, I interviewed for the coveted Writers House internship on Monday. I had to read a manuscript and provide a critique for them last week, and it turned out that they liked it! They told me they started with 1200 applicants and interviewed 40, and that this is why they do the writing assignment–lots of people had several great internships on their resume while all I have is retail at Barnes & Noble, but that doesn’t matter if they can’t do the work. That made me feel really good and really capable, even if I don’t end up getting it. I was just doing what I already do here, and what I love to do more than anything else! I love New York!