Gah, the adorableness of this book. Middle grades can be so good, because they give that focus on family so often wanting from YA, and I just love the family of colorful characters brought together here. Counting by 7s is an enchanting middle grade novel with a lot of heart.
One of my favorite stories to see in fiction, aside from a slow burn hate to love relationship is that of a family forming out of people who aren't necessarily related. Sure, a lot of people love their birth families, but just because you're not related to someone it doesn't preclude them being your family. The connections between people, what makes a familial bond, has very little to do with blood, and more to do with supporting and motivating one another. This message is one that I find so important.
Willow Chance is, as the blurb says, a genius. She's smart to the degree that she has difficulty interacting with other people, because she cannot fathom why they do not find the intricacies of gardening or language or multiples of seven fascinating. Middle school proves a torture, because no one wants to hang out with the weird girl who's dressed like a janitor (to blend in with nature, you see). To make matters worse, she aces a test and is accused of cheating. Because of that, she's sent to counseling with the worst counselor ever: Dell Duke.
What Dell discovers is that Willow is not a cheater or a troublemaker, because he gives her SAT tests and she aces them all. He also watches her learn Vietnamese over the course of a couple of weeks. The girl's brilliant. Dell becomes a bit obsessed, in a professional way not a creepy way, with Willow and feels the odd urge to try to help. Then both of her parents (not her biological ones either) die, leaving her at the mercy of the foster system again.
Spontaneously, another family, the son of which is also forced to go to counseling with Dell, adopts Willow and they form this strange little family. The book is just so touching. They all are made better by their relationship, even though there are so many hardships. There's a lot of diversity and self-improvement and emotion. Over the course of the book, I came to care for all of them, even Dell, which I did not expect.
There are a lot of middle grade books about genius children or at least much smarter than average children. To be frank, these are my favorite ones, because I like children that act more maturely. Though Willow's well-read and clever, her character definitely does read convincingly like a twelve-year-old. The narrative voice is fabulous and convincing. Willow just jumps right off the page and into your head.
What Left Me Wanting More:
However, much as I love the narrative voice and the emotions, the writing did leave me wanting. The problem is that, while I love the way Willow's perspective is done, we don't just get her perspective. A drifting third person limited interrupts. That could be fine, except for the fact that the third person perspective reads EXACTLY LIKE WILLOW'S. Also, Willow's perspective in the first chapter has a sort of talking to the audience flair, so the third person sections really don't fit with that sort of style.
The Final Verdict:
A touchingly emotional middle grade, Counting by 7s is one that I recommend rather highly. I'll definitely be looking to try more of Sloan's work, even if I wasn't entirely pleased with the perspectives in this work.