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Monday, January 06, 2014

Counting by 7s, Holly Goldberg Sloan

Notes: Twelve-year-old genius and outsider Willow Chance must figure out how to connect with other people and find a surrogate family for herself after her parents are killed in a car accident.
From the Publisher: 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.

Strengths: Willow's character is very well developed, as are all the characters in the story. Her situation is heartbreaking and makes readers feel for her immediately. Willow's unusual narrative style was very appealing to me; it felt like it fit perfectly for this story. I like a happy ending, even though I know it's not necessarily always the case in real life.

Weaknesses: This book may be a hard sell to many middle schoolers because Willow is just a bit too quirky (such as her narrative style that I liked so much) and it will take a strong reader to put together why. I also felt that the situation was  a bit too unrealistic as far as the whole foster family thing and the school counselor. I'm all for suspending some disbelief, but for me I had to over-suspend. Perhaps kids, without the background knowledge of the state/education systems wouldn't struggle with this as much (or at all). Interestingly, I didn't struggle with the idea of the taxi driver seeing Willow as divine guidance, but other readers might.

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