Book Review – Counting By 7s

counting by 7

Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a middle grade novel about Willow Chance.  Willow is a 12 year old genius who is obsessed with gardening and diagnosing medical conditions.  Her life is changed forever the day she comes home from her counseling session and finds out her adoptive parents have been in an accident.  Now orphaned twice over, she has to navigate through her grief and find a way to make sense of the world around her.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  It was genuinely engrossing and touching.  I liked the characters, especially Willow.  She was weird and not quite real, but I could identify with that.  I think a lot of kids, geniuses or not, can identify with being weird and not quite real.

I love stories about found families, and that is what this book is about.  Despite being a little disconnected from the people around her, Willow draws people to her by being genuine and passionate about the world around her.  Like many gifted children, the people she connects with the most are adults and older children.  Through her, the people in this book learn how to be better and how to create a family.  It’s really sweet and touching.

My only difficulty with the book is the little details.  Middle grade books tend to be written in a reality that is completely unlike our own.  On the surface, it looks like they’re about out world, but the way that world acts is so divorced from reality that I have a hard time letting go and just enjoying the book for what it is.  It’s easy when it’s a straight out fantasy or dystopian novel; I don’t expect Divergent to be realistic, so when the worldbuilding falls apart, I can still love it for being a good coming-of-age novel about a girl.  Something like Counting by 7s or The Report Card by Andrew Clements are more difficult for me because on the surface they seem realistic, but they’re not.

Basically, part of the plot revolves around Willow taking a standardized test and getting accused of cheating.  And since she a. takes the test at the beginning of the year (which is not when standardized tests are administered in California) and b. gets accused to cheating a week later (it’s just so hilariously wrong that it would be possible to get the results to a CA standardized state test a week after it was given) that I was thrown out of the world for quite some times.  It might have to do with being a teacher, but I am very tired of the way schools and the testing system are represented in books.

I also had a problem with Willow being so smart and able to do so many different things, but not being placed in a gifted class/school/or pull out programs or advancing grades.  The level of genius this child was portrayed at, she should have already been in college, not entering middle school.

But, on the other hand, the book wasn’t written for me. It’s written for middle grade readers and books aimed at that group tend to have a protagonist who is overwhelmingly special in some way.  That person is defined, however, not by their specialness, but by their ability to make connects with a wide group of diverse people and bring them together.  It’s a comforting story that assures us that we are not alone, that our family and friends are waiting for us to bring them together.  And Counting by 7s does this beautifully.

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