Book Review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

“I’m not brave; it’s just that all other choices have been thrown out the window.”

Cover via Goodreads.
Cover via Goodreads.

Being smart doesn’t protect you from everything.

Willow Chance wears protective clothing, including a red hat, whenever she is outside. She is an expert in human illnesses, though the only flaw in her health is myopia. She grows her own beet greens and flax seeds for breakfast. She conducts extensive research on teenagers before beginning her middle school career.

“I wish that I were old enough to just go live in the Amazon and study the plants there, because it is possible that one of them holds the key to the cure for cancer.”

But being a genius can’t protect you from being labeled “weirdo” by your peers. It can’t keep administrators from referring you to the school counselor for cheating on a state-level standardized test because you got a perfect score.

And it can’t protect you from your parents dying.

Twelve-year-old Willow is smarter than pretty much everyone in the town of Bakersfield. She has a knack for seeing what needs to be done, for figuring out how to make things better, but as a kid she’s stuck with the adults around her to carry out her vision. When her parents are killed in a car accident with no next of kin, Willow’s life takes a sudden turn away from the safe world she’s constructed for herself, and into the realm of child protective services and Happy Polish, thanks to the intervention of her new friend, Mai Nguyen and Mai’s mom Pattie.

“It’s all just ‘temporary.'”

Nail salon owner Pattie takes in the orphaned Willow, but only until another arrangement can be made. In short order, several planets that had been spinning aimlessly through the universe are whipped into alignment by this benevolent dictator. There’s Dell Duke, the hapless school counselor desperately in need of an intervention. There’s Jairo Hernandez, the taxi driver who is convinced that Willow is part mystic,  part angel. There’s Mai’s brother, the resentful Quang-ha, whose rebellious exterior hides the soul — and talent — of an artist. There’s Mai, who is willing to do whatever it takes to heal her friend and carve out a permanent home for her family — as long as it’s not in the garage behind the nail salon.

But most of all there is Willow. Willow Chance, whose fascinating way of seeing the world opens it to readers as if for the first time, and whose knack for survival in a hostile environment — much like a plant in the desert — rekindles readers’ belief that anything is possible.

“I don’t want to know how you did it. I want to believe you’re magic.”

You can learn more about the infinitely quotable writer Holly Goldberg Sloan at her website. If you like middle grade novels, especially those told in first person by a captivating, strong and quirky narrator, put this book on the top of your To Be Read list!

Author: Keri