Twelve-year-old Willow Chance laments the lack of adequate literature to help her deal with the loss of her parents. Willow Chance is a bright girl, a genius, in fact. She finds solace in books, in gardening, in studying diseases, in counting by sevens. But there isn’t much solace after her parent’s car accident.
Willow is so bright that she had been forced to see a counselor after a teacher accused her of cheating on a standardized test. Dell Duke is not a good counselor. He puts as little effort into life as humanly possible. But then he is confronted with a girl, an exceptionally intelligent girl, who doesn’t fit into any of his easy categories. And when her parents are killed, he has even more responsibility than he ever wanted.
Pattie, Mai and Quang-ha Nguyen live in the garage behind Pattie’s nail salon. Quang-ha is always in trouble and, even though she’s younger, Mai is always taking responsibility for him. When take-charge Mai meets Willow and witnesses her grief, she immediately starts looking for a solution. Pattie only has to take one look at the orphaned child to want to protect her. Quang-ha thinks she’s weird.
Taxi driver Jairo Hernandez thinks of Willow as his angel. She informed him of a cancerous mole on the back of his neck. She encouraged him to return to school. When he learns of her tragedy, he tries to repay some of his debt to her.
These very different people are drawn into the world of Willow Chance after her world falls apart. Holly Goldberg Sloan’s book, Counting by 7s, is an inspiring and often heart-breaking read. I first encountered this title on a list of the best children’s books of 2013, though it might prove challenging for young readers. For any child, 12 and up, who has suffered loss or is judged for being different, this book fills a void that young Willow recognizes. It provides an achingly honest and incredibly beautiful look into how to cope with the enormous hurts of life.