A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Counting by 7s is an exceptional novel that deals with a death and grief. The 12-year-old protagonist, Willow Chance, is a genius outsider whose parents are killed in a car crash as the book begins, but the accident's not described in graphic detail. The only blood in the book appears when Willow faints and cuts her head on a table. Positive role models abound in this heartwarming story that shows how grief feels but is ultimately a celebration of the indomitable human spirit. And though it's marketed to kids as young as 10, it could appeal to teens, as well, as it tackles complex feelings and issues of fitting in and features two compelling teen characters.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
Willow Chance is a 12-year-old adopted girl in Bakersfield, CA, a self-described "person of color" who's obsessed with gardening, rare skin conditions and other medical oddities, teaches herself Vietnamese, and counts by sevens to relax. Her white parents are the only people who really understand her -- her teachers never do, and her only friend moved away. At the start of middle school she scores 100 percent on a standardized test, prompting her teacher to send her to the school counselor, assuming she cheated. The counselor, a sloppy, burned-out slacker, snaps out of his doldrums when he figures out she's a genius, not a cheater. After Willow loses her parents in a car crash, the counselor takes an interest in her and two other misfit students of his -- a teen brother and sister -- and all of their lives become entwined with devastated Willow's.
Is it any good?
This amazing novel offers an indelible, appealing outsider protagonist and a cast of quirky, good-hearted characters who intersect against a backdrop of a 12-year-old's unimaginable loss. Chapters are variously narrated either by Willow or an omniscient narrator. The ones in Willow's voice are filled with offbeat "field note" observations and dry humor, as well as stunning metaphors that capture the numbing experience of grief, such as "Life, I now realize, is just one big trek across a minefield and you never know which step is going to blow you up."
But Willow doesn't become bitter, and the novel is more heartwarming and uplifting than sad. Her teen friends' immigrant single mother, who's struggled to provide for her kids, kindly steps up to help Willow, and the girl appreciates how she maintains her even disposition no matter what life throws at her: "Maybe that's what happens when you've been through a lot," Willow reflects. "All of your edges are worn off, like sea glass. Either that or you shatter."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about grief. Have you had any family members pass away? How did your family cope with the loss?
How hard is it to be someone known as "different" in middle school? Why is there so much pressure to conform?
What's the definition of a family? Is it just blood relatives, or can you create a family and sense of home with friends and caring adults who have your best interests at heart?
- Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Dial Books
- Publication date: August 29, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: November 8, 2019
Our editors recommend
For kids who love coming-of-age stories and strong female characters
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