Sometimes books just hit us at the perfect moment. There’s something in our past, our present, or what we think might be our future, something that a book or a character or even just a phrase captures precisely. That, my friends, is Willow Chance and Counting by 7s in a nutshell. Willow is obsessive, awkward, analytical and an outsider. But somehow, she’s all of the things we know ourselves to be, too. She’s trying to find her way.
I don’t do much re-reading – there are always too many new books to get to– except for my annual trips to Hogwarts in French and German, which is my way of reminding my brain of its many and varied pathways. But my book club decided to read Counting by 7s, and after trying to listen to it in the car unsuccessfully (some books work that way for me and other just don’t), I scrounged up my son’s copy. (He rereads it regularly.)
Holly Goldberg Sloan’s writing is just incredible–direct, powerful, illuminating, wonderful. Switches of perspective happen seamlessly, although the characters don’t seem to share very much. Willow is an oddball genius, as labeled by Dell Duke, her school counselor who lies about having a cat and can’t throw things away. Her new friends, Mai, Quang-ha and Pattie probably have a few issues, too. Mai would like to have bunk beds; Quang-ha would like to be left alone; Pattie thinks about nail polish a lot, maybe too much to realize what her life is really about. Then there’s Jairo, a cab driver who becomes convinced Willow is his personal angel.
In the end, all of these oddballs form a family. It’s a happy ending, but it doesn’t feel sappy or cloying. And passing through their lives reminded me of so many painful and happy days of my own – experiencing soul-crushing grief, seeing a garden grow, and finding a new friend who is completely different but perfect for me. It’s a trip you should take, too, whether you’ve been there before or not.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan