Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s

One thing that has consistently surprised me in the past few years is how much I have enjoyed a lot of young adult fiction (YA). I didn’t actually read a lot in that genre when I was the target age in my teens. However, I’ve found a lot of engaging, thought-provoking books  in this category. Despite whatever associations you may have with the term “young adult literature,” YA definitely isn’t just for adolescents anymore.

On that note, I’ve had a couple of different people recommend this YA book to me–my coworker Mary-Esther and library patron Mynette–and I was not disappointed when I recently read it.

Counting by 7s is, ostensibly, the story of Willow Chance, a precocious 12 year old who struggles with social interaction but already has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things medical and botanical. “Counting by 7s” refers to her own brand of soothing herself–counting by multiples of seven. But this method of self-reassurance proves completely ineffective when Willow loses her beloved adoptive parents in an accident. Because she has no other family, she is taken in temporarily by the mother of a sort-of friend she  made when she was referred to the school counselor because her teacher suspects her of cheating on an exam. The book follows her journey of healing.

Rereading the summary I have written, this book sounds overwhelmingly depressing, but it really isn’t. Some parts of it are sad, but overall, the story is heartwarming and often quite funny.  Indeed, I didn’t go into this book expecting it to be funny, so I was pleasantly surprised and delighted with how offbeatly funny it is (yes, I may have just invented the word “offbeatly”), especially as the disparate cast of misfit characters try to learn to interact with each other and the world at large. My reading tastes tend toward the dark and morbid, so it was refreshing for me to read something that was, quite frankly, sweet without being too light.

For the most part, this story is certainly Willow’s–her first-person narration comprises the bulk of the book–but it also encompasses third person chapters about the other people in her life, especially the family that takes her in and her hapless guidance counselor, Dell Duke. I found Willow interesting enough as a character on her own–as a fellow introvert, I especially appreciated that the book presents a believable depiction of the struggles and also joys of being an introvert.

But I honestly didn’t find her quite as interesting as the other characters in the story. Part of that may be me being me. In general, I often find myself being more interested in supporting characters. Another part of that, though, is the supporting cast is quite colorful and entertaining on their own. The Nguyens, Willow’s temporary family anchored by their Vietnamese immigrant mother and also consisting of kind daughter Mai and sullen teen-aged son Quang-ha, especially intrigued me. However, my favorite character was actually Dell, the school counselor. He is not a stellar example of a school counselor. In fact, he is pretty dysfunctional and terribly incompetent. He labels the students referred to him with his own highly unprofessional system (strange, misfit, lone wolf, oddball) and spends a lot of his workday trying to actively avoid anything resembling work. Despite his massive flaws (or probably because of them), I found him highly entertaining, and his own journey of growth throughout the story is just as engaging as Willow’s.

The book is not perfect–I found a couple of plot developments later in the story a bit far-fetched (we can chat about them in the comments, if you like). But they didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book overall. If you’re looking for a satisfying, entertaining book that makes you think, makes you laugh, and maybe even makes you cry a little, I recommend Counting by 7s.

And don’t forget, if you’re interested in learning more about this book, please follow this link to our online catalog.

*Ebook and audiobook also available on Libby.

Do you like YA? Have you read Counting by 7s before? Is there a book you want to recommend for me to review? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!


Author: berryvillelibrary

"Our library, our future"

4 thoughts on “Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s”

    1. I thought it was a good book too! I appreciate the recommendation.

      I just didn’t care for the plot twist about one character winning the lotto and then the reveal at the end that the mother had a ton of money all along. Both just seemed like too easy of a solution to me.


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