I was captivated by Willow’s voice from the first page of Counting by 7s (Scholastic 2013) until the very last page. Willow is not your ordinary girl, and she won’t let you forget it. First off, she’s brilliant, but not the teacher’s pet. I suspect her teachers don’t get her. She loves numbers and is fascinated by plants and medical conditions. She also picks up other languages such as Vietnamese in her spare time.
She also does not fit in at her new middle school. When she scores a perfect score on the state standardized test (after showing no aptitude for high ability to her teachers), the principal accuses her of cheating and refers her to Dell Duke, the school psychologist. Outside of his office, Willow meets Mai, a chance encounter that will change all of their lives.
What do I love about this book? Let me count the ways. There’ll be seven since that is Willow’s favorite number.
1. Connections: Even when life seems random and cruel, connections bring people together. Willow has a real talent for bringing people together, especially people who didn’t realize they needed each other.
2. Voice: Once you read what Willow has to say, you won’t be able to get her voice out of your heart. She is true and honest and sees the world a bit differently–more brilliantly–than the rest of the world.
3. Alternating points of view: Willow is not the only teller of this story. A third person narrator fills us in on the rest of the characters from pseudo-psychologist Dell Duke to Vietnamese nail salon owner Patty and generous taxi driver Jairo.
4. Unforgettable characters: Even the ones who rub you the wrong way at first–like Dell Duke and the angry Quang-ha–turn out to have a better side. Mai is a loyal friend from the start, and Pattie opens her arms and home to a little girl.
5 . Coincidences: Is life random and cruel? Is life random and lucky? Maybe it’s all of these and none of these, but Willow experiences them all.
6. Passion: Willow gives everything to her interests. She has mastered medical textbooks and would be glad to sit down with you to discuss any concerns you have. She has created a garden oasis out of a desert–not just once, but twice.
7. Family: Whether it’s the family she’s lost or the new family she’s found, Willow comes home to people who love her for who she is. Now if we could all be that lucky.
Holly Goldberg Sloan has crafted a brilliant story of love and loss, passion and friendship, tragedy and miracles.