August 28, 2013

Counting by 7s - Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s - Holly Goldberg Sloan
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Publisher: Dial
Publication Date: August 29, 2013
Source/Format: BEA 2013 || ARC
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

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. (from Goodreads)

If there’s one word that will describe Counting by 7s accurately, it’s delightful. This has a lot to do with the tone of the story, how it wavers from very analytical to surprisingly emotional. It also has a lot to do with the varied, interest cast of seemingly misfit characters, and how their individual oddness works in their favor. And it most definitely has to do with our quirky heroine – Willow Chance – who has her whole life changed, even as she (unknowingly) changes the lives of others.

Willow is an unusual heroine. Her thoughts are amusing, and the level of information she retains is quite sizable. These things, and her unusually intense interest in gardening and in medicine, definitely set her apart from her peers. Willow might be only 12 years old, but she has an old soul. This was evidenced by a number of things: the wisdom and common sense that came easy to her, her high level of intelligence and comprehension, her strong analytical abilities. Even with her oddities, Willow is so incredibly likable – and of course, I wanted to be her friend.

Willow’s friends – Dell Duke (her counselor), and Pattie, Mai & Quang-Ha Nguyen (a Vietnamese family) – are part and parcel of her story. Each one of these characters affected Willow as she learned to adapt and change and accept her new circumstances. She challenged them, and they would respond right back with a challenge of their own. This story is Willow’s, but it wouldn’t be the same without them.

I’ve thought about this story a lot, and what characterizes it best is that it’s quiet, subtle and full. There’s a steady pace to the way Willow’s story, and those of her friends, unfolds. While there’s certainly a positive message (on hope and finding a place to set down roots when life threatens to toss you among the waves), it’s not shoved down your threat. Instead, the concept is subtly introduced, finishing on a note both inspiring and hopeful.

Counting by 7s was so satisfying. In the face of strong grief and overwhelming situations, Willow journeys towards acceptance and finding a new place to “belong”. Watching this portion of her life unfold - steady, true and with a few surprises in store - is such a joy, and will hopefully be as appealing to other readers as it was to me.


  1. If you can only pick one word to describe a book, "delightful" is pretty convincing. ;) This sounds like an amazing book! I appreciate that you pointed out its subtlety; sometimes with stories like this, they can be so earnest that it becomes frustrating, but I'm glad to hear this one seems a little more complex.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  2. Eep, sad I left this at home now because it sounds amazing! I love middle grade done well. I'm glad it's subtle with a positive message.

  3. This book sounds absolutely amazing, Alexa! I'm so happy to see that you loved it. Willow certainly doesn't seem like your typical twelve year-old girl: intelligent, different, unique... I'd like to meet this girl for sure! And that message you described just seems so profound and something I'd like to read for myself. Brilliant review, Alexa!

  4. I have heard noting but good things about this book! I have the ARC and I can't wait to read it. Great review!

    Kate @ Ex Libris

  5. "Quiet, subtle, and full." WOW. Alexa! TERRIFIC review, girl. I will admit, I hadn't really heard of this one before now, but between the synopsis and your review, I'm really interested. Also? I LOVE when secondary characters take on a life of their own like you said the ones in this one do!

    Once Upon a Prologue

  6. Hopeful is such a perfect word for this book.

    I enjoyed it so so much.


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