Review: Counting by 7s

I received this book for free from BEA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Published by Dial BFYR on August 29, 2013
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: BEA

In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

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.

Counting by 7s

First Sentence: “We sit together outside the Fosters Freeze at a sea-green, metal picnic table.”

Gah, the adorableness of this book. Middle grades can be so good, because they give that focus on family so often wanting from YA, and I just love the family of colorful characters brought together here. Counting by 7s is an enchanting middle grade novel with a lot of heart.

One of my favorite stories to see in fiction, aside from a slow burn hate to love relationship is that of a family forming out of people who aren’t necessarily related. Sure, a lot of people love their birth families, but just because you’re not related to someone it doesn’t preclude them being your family. The connections between people, what makes a familial bond, has very little to do with blood, and more to do with supporting and motivating one another. This message is one that I find so important.

Willow Chance is, as the blurb says, a genius. She’s smart to the degree that she has difficulty interacting with other people, because she cannot fathom why they do not find the intricacies of gardening or language or multiples of seven fascinating. Middle school proves a torture, because no one wants to hang out with the weird girl who’s dressed like a janitor (to blend in with nature, you see). To make matters worse, she aces a test and is accused of cheating. Because of that, she’s sent to counseling with the worst counselor ever: Dell Duke.

What Dell discovers is that Willow is not a cheater or a troublemaker, because he gives her SAT tests and she aces them all. He also watches her learn Vietnamese over the course of a couple of weeks. The girl’s brilliant. Dell becomes a bit obsessed, in a professional way not a creepy way, with Willow and feels the odd urge to try to help. Then both of her parents (not her biological ones either) die, leaving her at the mercy of the foster system again.

Spontaneously, another family, the son of which is also forced to go to counseling with Dell, adopts Willow and they form this strange little family. The book is just so touching. They all are made better by their relationship, even though there are so many hardships. There’s a lot of diversity and self-improvement and emotion. Over the course of the book, I came to care for all of them, even Dell, which I did not expect.

There are a lot of middle grade books about genius children or at least much smarter than average children. To be frank, these are my favorite ones, because I like children that act more maturely. Though Willow’s well-read and clever, her character definitely does read convincingly like a twelve-year-old. The narrative voice is fabulous and convincing. Willow just jumps right off the page and into your head.

However, much as I love the narrative voice and the emotions, the writing did leave me wanting. The problem is that, while I love the way Willow’s perspective is done, we don’t just get her perspective. A drifting third person limited interrupts. That could be fine, except for the fact that the third person perspective reads EXACTLY LIKE WILLOW’S. Also, Willow’s perspective in the first chapter has a sort of talking to the audience flair, so the third person sections really don’t fit with that sort of style.

A touchingly emotional middle grade, Counting by 7s is one that I recommend rather highly. I’ll definitely be looking to try more of Sloan’s work, even if I wasn’t entirely pleased with the perspectives in this work.

Favorite Quote:

“It said I was ‘highly gifted.’
Are people ‘lowly gifted’?
Or ‘medium gifted’?
Or just ‘gifted’? It’s possible that all labels are curses. Unless they are on cleaning products.
Because in my opinion its not really a great idea to see people as one thing.
Every person has lots of ingredients to make them into what is always a one-of-a-kind creation.”

9 responses to “Review: Counting by 7s”

  1. So glad you liked this! I’ve had my eye on this since I saw people from BEA haul this and it looks and sounds so good. I love me some good MG 😀

    I love that there’s a lot of development between the characters because I always love stories to do with characters who aren’t blood-related form a close bond and show that you don’t need to be related to have that kind of bond. Also really loving the sound of Willow, I cannot wait to get the chance to read this 😀

    • Christina says:

      Yes, yes. The perspective issues were big enough I couldn’t give this one my feels rating, but I still think it’s well worth reading. I mean, any feels at all = excellent.

      Exactly. It’s great if you’re bonded to your family, but not everyone has that. Blood doesn’t make or break a family.

  2. Great quote – that alone makes me want to read the book.

  3. I just pre-ordered this one because of your review. I am just like you–one of my favorite things in fiction is when non-family members act as a character’s parental figures. I LOVE IT SO MUCHHH. It is so much more affecting to me than with real family members. Also, the hate to love relationship is awesome, as long as it’s met with a believable amount of development. I really think I’m going to love this one. It would be my first MG read in a while (maybe even this year), but I can’t pass this up.

  4. Audra says:

    I love the cover, even if it’s not my kind of read.

  5. Amy says:

    I think I would love this. It sounds really great. I love that the girl is a genius, that’s really cool. I also love how MG books tend to really focus a lot on family. I love good family dynamics in books. Great review chick!!!

  6. Rachelia says:

    I don’t read pretty much any MG but a lot of people seem to be talking about this one and how great it is! Willow seems like a really interesting character and I too love non-blood related families in fiction.

    If I was doubting reading this at all, your favourite quote has me sold on this!

  7. Sounds lovely – will keep it in mind for my kiddos!

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