Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan will pull you into the world of Willow Chance. Willow has just started middle school, been accused of cheating, started seeing a counselor, and may have just made a friend. With a love for botany, studying diseases, and the number 7, Willow knows she is different from her peers, but it doesn’t matter since she has loving and caring parents—both of whom die in a car accident, leaving Willow alone. In come a small army of people to help Willow, people no one would imagine to have helped her before—some of whom she didn’t even know until now. Her counselor, a Vietnamese family, and a taxi driver, band together for Willow’s sake as she navigates her new life. What Willow doesn’t know is how much she can help them.
Just as the characters in Willow’s life are drawn to this strange little girl, the reader is also compelled to care for her. We get to see Willow as herself before her parents die, somewhat lost in early adolescence, but happy and content with the things she loves. Even here, when she’s happy, we’re cringing along with her mother when Willow announces that she’ll wear her tan gardening outfit and red hat on the first day at her new middle school. We already want Willow to do well at her school and we know that it will be impossible for her to fit in. Our heart breaks with hers as she tells us that the old her might have taken delight in the instances of 7, but she doesn’t do that anymore….
I was put off by the character of her counselor, Dell Duke. He is written to be an unlikable character. He categorizes his students into different degrees of the strange, never thinks anything through, is easily pushed around by a high school student, and is selfish. He seems more childish than Willow; however he does have redeemable qualities and he tries, but I still could not get over my dislike of him—even by the end of the book.
Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Willow Chance is a wonderfully written character. She has immersed us in rich characters who are believable with real flows, yet for the most part we love them all. Make sure you keep Kleenex nearby, however, as this was tear jerker thought the entire book.