Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is about a little girl named Willow Chance who is just entering middle school. The reader quickly realizes that Willow is a genius. She knows everything there is to know about medical conditions, every plant known to mankind, and all about current events. However, Willow knows nothing about being a middle-schooler. She is excited to start middle school, but upon being mistaken for the custodian on the first day, dressed in her gardener outfit, she quickly realizes she does not fit in. When Willow is sent to a social worker, Dell Duke, after a mix up on a test, she meets Mai and Quang-ha at Dell Duke’s office, who she eventually befriends.
Unfortunately, middle school is the least of Willow’s troubles. The reader knows as soon as they finish the first chapter that Willow’s parents die in a car crash. However, after the author introduces this idea, she backtracks to prior to the event. This transition was a bit confusing to me, initially—I couldn’t understand the timeline. The reader gets to know Willow’s family a little bit prior to the accident, so they are more invested when tragedy hits. Willow is scooped up and saved by her new friends and her odd-ball social worker after her parents deaths. She has to rediscover herself and her hobbies.
I liked this story as a whole, however, it took me a long time to get fully interested. The story started off kind of slow for me, and Willow could be kind of frustrating at times. However, the other characters really bring the story to life. They each have distinct personalities that the reader can’t help but like. They also understand and learn to love Willow for her whole self—smart, nerdy, and compassionate. The heart of the story lies in this friendship and new sense of family that develops.
I would recommend this story to a child who may struggle due to being very smart and standing out. I would not give this book to a child who was grieving. Although everyone grieves differently, I was surprised when I found very few similarities between myself and Willow Chance. Losing my mom five months ago, I have been going through the grieving process myself. I thought that I might be able to relate to this main character quite well, however, she rarely mentioned her parents at all. Willow was very focused on her situation and finding her new normal—two aspects of her situation that did seem realistic and releatable. She also felt very sad, which made great sense, however she didn’t mention her parents’ names, hobbies, memories at all. She mostly just seemed sad and quiet. I understand having these feelings and not wanting to think about hard times. Also, as I already mentioned, I know everyone grieves differently, but I could not relate to Willow’s experience very much at all. At times her reactions seemed unauthentic and distracted. Since I struggled to make these connections as an adult, I really wonder how well a middle-schooler would relate. They could surprise me, of course, but I would be hesitant to hand a grieving teenager this book.
Book Trailer provided on Youtube