Books for Young Readers by Sarah Cassidy
Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Counting by Sevens, a novel by Holly Goldberg Sloan, is a tale about being an outsider, how we cope with grief, and our impact on others’ lives. I felt lucky to have it recommended to me, not only for reading enjoyment, but also because I often struggle to recommend novels for readers on the cusp of reading adult fiction. Adult fiction tends to feature scenes or themes too mature for young readers, and yet young adult fiction lacks challenge for blossoming readers. To this end, Counting by Sevens is the perfect level for nearly-adult readers.
The heroine of Counting by Sevens, Willow Chance, is a character you’ll want to meet. Willow is twelve and a genius. Willow even looks like an outsider, being an African American adopted to Caucasian parents. She and her “strange” friends—as diagnosed by the school counsellor—will feel familiar to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. She is obsessed with medicine and botany, not to mention the number seven.
Mai and Quang-ha are the children of a Vietnamese immigrant, and both are of mixed race. Like Willow, normality is not something that comes naturally to the siblings. Quang-ha sees the counsellor for his defiance, and Mai’s manipulation tactics are a forced to be reckoned with.
The central cog that brings the young teens together is school counsellor Dell Duke. Dell is a pitiful man with a lack of ambition to see through even the shortest-term goals.
At the outset of the novel, Willow meets great tragedy at the loss of both parents. The novel is a journey from the depths of grief and despair to becoming whole again. At first, the loss drives Willow to silence. She cannot eat and takes no pleasure in her previous interests. Slowly, Willow rebuilds herself while bringing others together.
The lives of Mai, Quang-ha, and Dell are all transformed when Willow enters their lives. Willow sees herself as run-of-the-mill, but each life she touches shines brighter: a taxi driver is inspired to seek higher education, a pathetic man learns what it means to take adult responsibility, and, most wonderfully, a group of individuals becomes a family.
Counting by Sevens is a bittersweet read, full of sad times that are met with quirky responses. Through this thought-provoking novel, you’ll question what it means to be normal and appreciate the little things that make us content.