Friday, September 18, 2015

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, 2013

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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.

(380 pages)

On one hand, I absolutely loved this book. Sloan has a wonderful, magical way with prose and I could just sit here quoting page after page of wonderful narration from Counting by 7s and never grow tired.

But then she sometimes randomly jumped into the heads of different people around Willow, and it was really confusing because I kept thinking a chapter was being told in someone else's POV only to realize no, wait, this is actually still Willow narrating. 

And I absolutely loved Willow for being so smart, and so clever, and so strong even with everything that's happened. She's a beautiful character because she really, truly cares about the world around her. She may be an oddball, but she's a wonderfully clever oddball, and one you can't help but love.

But I don't really like the way Willow is some sort of under-the-radar genius child, because I feel like that's getting to be a bit over-done. And the genius kid doesn't always have to be the socially inept oddball, you know? I mean, I get that it's just a story, and that it's so much more powerful because Willow is the way she is, but at the same time I can't help but wish smart kids could be portrayed as the popular kids for once.

And I love how Counting by 7s feels kind of random, the way everything at the beginning seems so out-of-the-blue and how there are so many random people drawn into Willow's life and how she becomes the lynch-pin that holds all of them together, when normally they wouldn't have even met in the first place. Sometimes life really is that random, and it's beautiful watching the way events unfold.

But - you guessed it - I didn't really like how random it was. For example, what exactly was the point of the scene with Willow's parents, where we discover why her dad forgot to check the intersection before going forward? I can understand if Willow was going to discover the information that we learn there, and maybe it helped her come to grips with things or made her come to some profound realization about the meaning of life. As it was, I just didn't get the point.

Or what about the taxi driver? I love him, and he seems really nice, and I liked the whole side-plot about all the ways Willow helped him. But then he also seemed a little superfluous, because we already had Dell to fill the role of male screw-up needing Willow's help. And I didn't quite understand the choice to bring Dell into the story, and make him so important, and then make Jairo (the taxi driver) suddenly also important in the end.

As for the big announcement a certain someone makes at the end? Come on! That is a) so incredibly unrealistic and b) just sad. So sad. I feel so bad for some certain people, whose mother so obviously didn't pay attention to their feelings at all.

But anyway, despite all of my griping Counting by 7s is still a gorgeous book. When the prose is that beautiful, I simply can't help but enjoy the book. There are some very touching themes running throughout the novel, and I loved the way Willow turns facts about her plants into lessons about life. I am sure I'll be re-reading Counting by 7s in the future, and that I'll pull even more from it, but I just had a few too many bones to pick to be completely satisfied.

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