Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
(Review contains spoilers)
This book has been on my “to be read” list for a long time. I’m currently in the middle of Anna Karenina, and felt like I needed something quick and simple to give myself a break from Tolstoy for a bit. This book did the trick.
Willow Chase: A 12 year old genius whose interests include gardening, medical conditions, and the color red. Despite not having many friends, Willow lives a happy life with her adoptive parents. When Willow is (unfairly) accused of cheating on a test, she is assigned to sessions with Dell Duke, a shockingly inept school counselor. Willow is out for ice cream with Dell and siblings Mai and Quang-ha, who also see Duke for counseling, when her parents are in a fatal car accident.
There are no family members or friends to take care of Willow after her parents’ deaths. Fortunately, Mai and Quang-ha’s mother, Pattie, steps in and becomes Willow’s temporary guardian. It is through her relationship with this unconventional family and the friendship of a taxi driver named Jairo that Willow finally begins to accept the loss of the only people she has every truly loved.
The point of view changes throughout the story, from first-person to third-person depending on the chapter. This tactic, while not always successful, keeps readers interested and shines a light on some of the less prominent characters. Sloan features a large cast of characters, ensuring that every child will find someone to connect with.
Recommended for ages 10-14 years, I would unhesitatingly read this book to my fifth graders. The story addresses several themes: not fitting in, coping with loss, and learning that family is what you make it. The cover quote, if you’re lost, you might need to swim against the tide, suggests perseverance and tenacity. This book is a masterful look at how a child learns to handle a difficult situation with grace and dignity.