Counting by 7s

by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Author)

Counting by 7s
Reading Level: 6th − 7th Grade
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.

"Holly Goldberg Sloan writes about belonging in a way I've never quite seen in any other book. This is a gorgeous, funny, and heartwarming novel that I'll never forget."--John Corey Whaley, author of Where Things Come Back

"Willow Chance subtly drew me into her head and her life, so much so that I was holding my breath for her by the end. Holly Goldberg Sloan has created distinct characters who will stay with you long after you finish the book."--Sharon Creech, Newbery Award-winning author of Walk Two Moons

"In achingly beautiful prose, Holly Goldberg Sloan has written a delightful tale of transformation that's a celebration of life in all its wondrous, hilarious and confounding glory. Counting by 7s is a triumph."--Maria Semple, author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette
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Publishers Weekly

Willow Chance is an extremely precocious and analytical 12-year-old "genius," and she doesn't fit in with other kids (though she'd doubtlessly find a kindred spirit in Lauren Tarshis's Emma-Jean Lazarus). Despite Willow's social difficulties, she makes an impression on everyone around her--whether it's Dell Duke, a lonely and ineffectual school district counselor, or Jairo Hernandez, the taxi driver Willow hires to drive her to her meetings with Dell. After Willow's parents die in a car crash, her new friend Mai Nguyen persuades her mother to take Willow in; despite the Nguyens' poverty, their makeshift home and open arms help bring Willow back from the void. As in Sloan's I'll Be There, the narration shifts among multiple viewpoints, from Willow's cerebral first-person perspective to third-person chapters that demonstrate how her presence is transformational to those around her, young and old. But while elements of Willow's story are indeed extraordinary and even inspirational, Sloan's somewhat portentous storytelling gets in the way of letting readers reach their own conclusions about the ways people save each other. Ages 10-up. Agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House. (Aug.)

Copyright 2013 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 5-8--Twelve-year-old Willow Chase lived with her adoptive parents in Bakersfield, California. There in the midst of the high desert, she grew a garden in her backyard, her sanctuary. She was excited about starting a new school, hoping this time she might fit in, might find a friend. Willow had been identified in preschool as highly gifted, most of the time causing confusion and feelings of ineptness in her teachers. Now at her new school she is accused of cheating because no one has ever finished the state proficiency test in just 17 minutes, let alone gotten a perfect score. Her reward is behavioral counseling with Dell Duke, an ineffectual counselor with organizational and social issues of his own. She does make a friend when Mai Nguyen brings her brother, Quang-ha, to his appointment, and their lives begin to intertwine when Willow's parents are killed in an auto accident. For the second time in her life she is an orphan, forced to find a "new normal." She is taken in temporarily by Mai's mother, who must stay ahead of Social Services. While Willow sees herself as just an observer, trying to figure out the social norms of regular family life, she is actually a catalyst for change, bringing together unsuspecting people and changing their lives forever. The narration cleverly shifts among characters as the story evolves. Willow's philosophical and intellectual observations contrast with Quang-ha's typical teenage boy obsessions and the struggles of a Vietnamese family fighting to live above the poverty level. Willow's story is one of renewal, and her journey of rebuilding the ties that unite people as a family will stay in readers' hearts long after the last page.--Cheryl Ashton, Amherst Public Library, OH

Copyright 2013 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Praise for Counting By 7s:

"A graceful, meaningful tale featuring a cast of charming, well-rounded characters who learn sweet—but never cloying—lessons about resourcefulness, community, and true resilience in the face of loss."—Booklist (starred review)

"Bright and heartfelt [...] an uplifting story."—Kirkus

"What sets this novel apart from the average orphan-finds-a-home book is its lack of sentimentality, its truly multicultural cast (Willow describes herself as a "person of color"; Mai and Quang-ha are of mixed Vietnamese, African American, and Mexican ancestry), and its tone. . . . Poignant."—The Horn Book (starred review)

"A deeply original tale . . . Readers will rejoice." —BCCB (starred review)

"Willow's story is one of renewal, and her journey of rebuilding the ties that unite people as a family will stay in readers' hearts long after the last page."—School Library Journal (starred review)
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Holly Goldberg Sloan, the acclaimed author of I'll Be There, has worked as an advertising copywriter and a writer and director of feature films. She lives in Santa Monica, California.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Rocky Pond Books
Publication date
September 20, 2014
BISAC categories
JUV035000 - Juvenile Fiction | School & Education
JUV013050 - Juvenile Fiction | Family | Orphans & Foster Homes
Library of Congress categories
High schools
Eccentrics and eccentricities
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