Counting By 7s

Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is the junior fiction title for the Convent book group's Mental Health theme this month, and I found it in the library (phew!).

Twelve year old Willow has always been different; she is super-smart, she's the dark-skinned adoptive child of very white parents, and she doesn't quite fit in at school. But when her parents are killed in a car accident and leave her alone in the world, she has to find a new place to belong, and pull together some random strangers into a family.

Counting By 7s seems to have swept the awards table in the year it was published, and it is undeniably a feel-good, uplifting tale, which features a nicely diverse cast of characters (Vietnamese family, Mexican cab driver etc). I read it quickly and easily. But for a number of reasons, it didn't quite work for me.

Firstly, a minor stylistic quibble: the paragraphs are really short, often only a sentence long, which made  the book quite choppy to read. After a while I got used to it, but in the beginning it really grated on me.

Secondly, character quibbles: Willow's 'quirks' (counting by sevens, for example) didn't ever quite ring true to me. I think she was supposed to be Asperger-y, but she didn't consistently display Asperger-y behaviour. A review on Goodreads pointed out that she actually drops these behaviours when under stress, when they are actually coping strategies, which is a good point! I also had a problem with the frequent jumps from the inside of Willow's head into third person omniscient POV, and particularly the character of Dell, the incompetent counsellor, who just made me feel uncomfortable.

Thirdly, plot quibble: there is a really implausible happy ending -- so implausible that it destroys the credibility of the entire novel. Not that (spoiler) Willow ends up formally adopted by her de facto new family, but that it's suddenly revealed that her new mother is incredibly rich, and has been all along… Hmmm.

But a lot of people seem to have really loved this book, and I can see lots of reasons why. It just didn't quite do it for me.

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