(Image from Barnes & Noble)
When things go haywire in Willow Chance's life, the 12-year-old soothes herself with numbers. Something about counting by 7s just makes things all better. The routine never fails—it always calms Willow, restoring order to her topsy-turvy world. But when her adoptive parents die in a car accident, numbers can't ease her pain. Nothing can. The fact is, she's completely alone in the world. No friends. No family. No comforting ritual to make her troubles disappear.
Willow's taken in by a Vietnamese family, a situation she knows can only be temporary. The Nguyens are already squatting in a cramped garage with no bathroom and little ventilation. Despite their kindness, Willow knows it's only a matter of time before she's thrown into foster care. She can't stand the thought, but it's her only option. Unless she can somehow convince Dell Duke, her crusty, unhelpful guidance counselor to take a chance on a strange, grieving girl. He despises children in general, misfits in particular, so he's about the unlikeliest savior in Willow's world. And yet, he's her only chance. Can Willow persuade him to do the unthinkable? Can she put the shattered pieces of her life back together again? Or will her grief swallow her whole?
Counting by 7s (available August 29, 2013), a middle grade novel by Holly Goldberg Sloan, is a strange little story about an even stranger little girl. Willow's a sympathetic character, of course, as any twice-orphaned child would be. It's easy to root for her, even if her circumstances are just plain weird. The subterfuge Willow goes through in order to evade the wrath of Child Protective Services is hardly believable, which makes the tale a little difficult to digest. Still, Counting by 7s teaches some important lessons about triumphing over tragedy, finding hope even in your darkest hours and, mostly, about the true meaning of family. The story's definitely a little odd, but it's also uplifting and hopeful. I didn't love it, but it's still a decent read.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't really think of anything. You?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for (vague) references to sex and subject matter most appropriate for readers 10+
To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Counting by 7s from the generous folks at Penguin. Thank you!