SLOAN, Holly Goldberg. Counting by 7s. 384p. Dial. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3855-3. LC 2012004994.
Gr 5-8–Twelve-year-old Willow Chase lived with her adoptive parents in Bakersfield, California. There in the midst of the high desert, she grew a garden in her backyard, her sanctuary. She was excited about starting a new school, hoping this time she might fit in, might find a friend. Willow had been identified in preschool as highly gifted, most of the time causing confusion and feelings of ineptness in her teachers. Now at her new school she is accused of cheating because no one has ever finished the state proficiency test in just 17 minutes, let alone gotten a perfect score. Her reward is behavioral counseling with Dell Duke, an ineffectual counselor with organizational and social issues of his own. She does make a friend when Mai Nguyen brings her brother, Quang-ha, to his appointment, and their lives begin to intertwine when Willow’s parents are killed in an auto accident. For the second time in her life she is an orphan, forced to find a “new normal.” She is taken in temporarily by Mai’s mother, who must stay ahead of Social Services. While Willow sees herself as just an observer, trying to figure out the social norms of regular family life, she is actually a catalyst for change, bringing together unsuspecting people and changing their lives forever. The narration cleverly shifts among characters as the story evolves. Willow’s philosophical and intellectual observations contrast with Quang-ha’s typical teenage boy obsessions and the struggles of a Vietnamese family fighting to live above the poverty level. Willow’s story is one of renewal, and her journey of rebuilding the ties that unite people as a family will stay in readers’ hearts long after the last page.–Cheryl Ashton, Amherst Public Library, OH