The blurb for Counting by 7s caught my eye a little while back, pre-release, in the Bookseller, and I was immediately reminded of R.J. Palacio’s emotionally charged triumph Wonder, so I just had to request a proof and give it a try. What I got was a sweet, touching story of acceptance in the face of adversity.
Willow Chance is not like other girls her age. Not many twelve year old children could diagnose a complex skin condition on pure sight alone, and not many could cultivate their own garden filled with a variety of rare, unusual and difficult to grow plants. In short, twelve year old Willow Chance is a genius, a total child prodigy – Except for her ability to interact with other children her own age. That’s something she’s never been a big fan of, and she’d much rather stick to scientific, detached observations. However, when her adoptive parents are suddenly, tragically killed in a car accident, the brilliantly bright young girl must learn to rely on people that she would otherwise never go near:
Her school counsellor, and expert slacker, Dell Duke.
Mai Nguyen, her only real friend, a high school student and the daughter of a Vietnamese Nail Salon owner.
Pattie and Quang-ha Nguyen, Mai’s driven and bossy mother, and indifferent, apathetic brother.
The unlikely group are thrown together by the tragedy and the need to find the exceptional Willow Chance a place where she can grow and flourish like the plants she loves so much. Personalities scrape and people clash, and all Willow can think is about how much she’s upended everyone else’s lives. How can anyone as orderly and thoughtful as her ever find a home in a world of emotions and chaos?
Willow is a fantastically shrewd character, and I immediately felt a connection with her through my own childhood (and adulthood) love of all things natural and scientific. How she deals with her grief is a slow, delicate build; it’s black and harrowing but becomes oh so heart warming. She goes through fantastic growth as a character, all the while visibly changing the lives of the characters around her, interacting with the world she feels so detached from without even realising it. The book’s support cast are brilliantly realised, with Dell’s progression being one of the best facets of the story, going from a directionless counsellor, willing to do anything to avoid working hard, to a compassionate man with a great sense of responsibility, and a desire to be seen as a productive person instead of barely being seen at all. I’d have loved to get more from Mai as a character, because she seems so strong and determined, but with a complexity of emotion behind her, and her strong, silent brother Quang-ha, he seems to have so much creativity and imagination lurking beneath his surface.
Ultimately, the story is the tale of Willow, and the effects she has on the lives of those around her, but despite this, it’s told from various character’s perspectives, allowing the reader to gain a fantastic grip on the plot by seeing it through the analytical eyes of Willow, the defeatist eyes of Dell, or the passionate eyes of Pattie. This shift also creates a dynamic, warm and emotionally rounded feel to Counting by 7s, letting us see the darkest events from older, more mature perspectives, and from younger, more idealistic ones. It’s perfect for fans of Wonder, and while you’ll find it in the teen section of most shops, it’s easily suitable for mature 9-12 year olds, and it has a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. A true feel good book to chase away the blues!
Thanks for reading!