Saturday Extra! Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

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Being a twelve year old girl is hard. Being a twelve year old girl who is a genius is even harder. Being a twelve year old girl who is a genius and suddenly loses both of her parents, the only people who truly understand her, may be near impossible.

But Willow Chance makes it work.

Sloan’s mature middle grade novel Counting by 7s tackles tough topics of identity, coming of age, loss and grief, difference, and more all through the story of twelve-year-old Willow Chance, who loves plants and counting by sevens. The story is comparable to other middle grade novels, like R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, that take unique characters in difficult situations and mesmerize readers with the inner strength of these unlikely emotional titans.

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So, just who is Willow Chance and what is her story? In true Willow fashion, here are 7 facts (7 is Willow’s favorite number) about the story told in Counting by 7s and the book’s fascinatingly unique main character:

1. Willow Chance is twelve-years-old and she’s adopted. She also happens to be a genius.

2. This year, Willow is starting a new school. She’s decided to wear her gardening outfit for the first day. After all, her garden is her happy place and one true love, and plants are the most interesting part of the world.

3. Willow scored a perfect score at her new school on the state aptitude test. She was the only one in the state. Then she got accused of cheating.

4. She also scored a perfect score on the SAT IIs and the MCAT and every standardized test her school-assigned counselor Dell Duke gave her after she was referred to him for cheating. Dell Duke knows she’s not a cheater. She’s different. Dell Duke knows Willow’s a genius.

5.  Willow’s friends are her plants. And her parents. Until she meets Dell Duke. And then Mai, the sister of Quang-ha, another of Dell Duke’s students. The four become a usual quartet.

6. Willow learns Vietnamese so that she can speak with Mai in her native language. She wants to be Mai’s friend. Mai is impressed my Willow’s level of commitment and is stunned by how quickly Willow learns.

7. When Willow suddenly loses both her parents, her predictable, orderly world comes crashing down. Not even counting by sevens can fix this. The only people left are Dell Duke and Mai. They are now Willow’s world.

This book tackles some of life’s toughest topics through quirky but confident Willow, who will blow readers away not only with her genius, but with her strong sense of emotion that seems to rise almost spontaneously from somewhere deep within her. Willow’s passion will awe readers, as they come to know Willow on a deeply personal level throughout her story. Though strange in her ways, Willow connects with individuals throughout on the story in ways so unique that analyzing her relationships serve pointless and appreciating them for their pure, incomparable value is essential. The affection readers will feel for Willow will take them by surprise somewhere around the one hundred and fiftieth page of the book, but such feeling will be welcomed with an open mind and open arms, I assure you.

Though this is a fantastic read that will have readers laughing, crying, smiling, heartbroken, filled with love, and more, I would take caution when recommending it to young readers. Readers joining in Willow’s story should be mature enough to understand the problems Willow faces in her some, at least in some capacity, independently. This book is a fantastic read for any child who feels like they just don’t quite fit into their world. Willow can help show readers a thing or two about what it’s like to form relationships and redefine oneself in a world that can sometimes be baffling at best.

By Lauren Christopher

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