Counting by 7s
By Holly Goldberg Sloan
Expected publication August 29, 2013 by Dial
Willow has never been a typical girl. She's a genius, and she's obsessed with nature and medical conditions. She's grown a giant garden behind her house and it's her favorite place in the world. Willow is about to become even more atypical when tragedy strikes. Can Willow find a way to cope in the awful new reality?
This book was giddily shoved into my hands at TLA by an enthusiastic booth representative who said if my focus was on middle-grade lit, I had to read this book. Little did I know, this book was actually incredibly sought after (and again at ALA) and has already been receiving high praise. Having finished it myself, I'd say it's well-deserved.
Sloan's 2011 novel, I'll Be There, also received a lot of praise and I'd been meaning to pick it up (I think it has a really beautiful cover, also) and never got to it. I'm thrilled to have had her latest be my introduction to her work. This is a beautiful book. This may be one of the best written books I've read recently. Willow's voice is unbelievable - I mean that in a good way. It feels authentic and heartbreakingly real and just beautiful to read. And Willow is not the only lovely character - all of Sloan's characters feel incredibly true to life, even if we are not meant to actually like them (the counselor - I'm unsure how we're really supposed to feel about him). I loved reading about them all, especially as they are brought to life with Sloan's enormous skill.
Additionally, I love that Sloan gives us such a diverse bunch of lovely characters - Willow is a girl of color (even she is unsure of her true ethnicity) and she spends a great deal of time with a Vietnamese family. It would have been nice to have this diversity reflected on the cover, especially in light of all the recent discussions about this very topic. I do like this cover, though.
I loved the exploration of family in this novel. In fact, if I have to sum up this book in one word, it would be that: family. Willow is adopted but, during the course of the novel, she loses her adoptive parents as well. She must now adjust her definitions of family and find a new place for herself.
This is another long book, particularly for a contemporary realistic middle-grade novel. But, if you love it even half as much as I did, you will tear through the pages. I did not want to put this down. This is just an enchanting and compulsively readable novel that I think will greatly appeal to readers looking for realistic fiction. I do think the ending is predictable and a little pat, but it works in this situation and for the intended audience I think. I definitely recommend this one.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.