Book Review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Posted September 2, 2013 by Kara in book review, Kara / 9 Comments

Book Review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg SloanCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Published by Dial on August 29th, 2013
Genres: contemporary, middle grade
Pages: 380
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

When it comes to the technical aspects of Counting by 7s, this book is five star all the way. It’s written in a style I absolutely LOVED, and the voice of the protagonist we clear to me and brilliantly rendered all through the writing. I mentioned in my updated how difficult it must be to write a twelve-year-old protagonist who is a genius, and still have her sound to the ear like a child, not an adult. It worked for me. I loved Willow and I truly believed she was who she said she was. She was very mature and real, and I never once disbelieved in her voice. That’s very important, and the author is very talented. 

But…when it comes to the content of this book, I had problems. I know I am probably going to be in the minority with my feelings on this book, and it worries me a little. First things first. Let’s get personal. My husband is an elementary school teacher. So you can image how I feel about teachers, administrators, counselors, school nurses, blah blah blah, and all the work they do. So when I see the character of a counselor (who wasn’t a truly bad guy per se) that would NEVER get past the interview process to be hired, I’m thinking I don’t like the way the public school system in this book is portrayed. And I stand by that statement. Dell was not a bad character. I actually liked him for the most part. But I didn’t like that he was a school counselor. I didn’t like the believability in this part of the story, and it totally didn’t work for me.

To reword this in another way (I wrote this in my pre-review): There is no way someone like Dell would slip through the school system and be able to counsel kids like he did with his unorthodox methods. That is damaging and destructive to kids. In the end, lessons are learned and all that, but I don’t think this is okay, and it really shows a lack of respect to counselors, schools, and everyone that teaches. With a husband as a teacher, I take umbrage with this portrayal and it bothered me from the very beginning. And that’s just the way it is. Agree or don’t agree, it’s the way I feel.

And then the other thing has something to do with the ending, and I will put it beyond a BIG FAT SPOILER WARNING. DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU INTEND TO READ THIS BOOK!!!

This has to do with Pattie. We find out at the end that Pattie has a boatload of money that she has been hoarding in piles somewhere. The first thing is the amount of detail this whole twist to the story lacks. But then I think, “Wait a second. She lived in a garage behind her nail salon (that was basically a hovel without proper running water–they had to take showers in the salon) with her two kids for years before Willow came along.” HUH WHAT? So then she can afford to buy an ENTIRE apartment building after she adopts Willow, so the little girl can have her freaking garden and they can all live together still, including Dell? This is just ridiculous. So Willow is more important to her than her own kids by birth? And you wonder why they are messed up and in counseling with Dell (who has no BUSINESS being a counselor) in the first place. I just can’t even with this entire ending. 


Sorry for the rant. Well, not really, but this whole ending was just a mess to me. I know it seems like I hated this book, but I really didn’t. I loved the characters beyond the inaccuracies that I stated above. I thought they were wonderful, charming, realistic, and I really enjoyed reading them. I loved the tone of the book, the writing, and the style it was written in. I found it truly engaging and I am absolutely positive that this book will be nominated for awards. I am in love with this author’s writing and I definitely want to read I’ll Be There now and anything else this author writes. But I found some of the content here problematic. Sad.


9 responses to “Book Review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

  1. I have been really looking forward to this one ever since Christina told me that it features a lot of adorable and heartwarming non-family relationships, which are my FAVORITES. I might be able to look over the issues you had with the guidance counselor (but that depends since I don’t exactly know what he does), because great characters and a great writing style definitely sound…well, great. Speaking of great, great review, love!

    Can you tell it’s early and I’m really tired? Great.

  2. I’m glad this one was okay for you, girl! It’s always so frustrating when there’s something that strikes you as off because you have true-to-life knowledge about how it would or wouldn’t happen. Dell sounds like a stinker of a counselor for sure. But otherwise it’s cool you liked the writing and such. 🙂

  3. So I TOTALLY didn’t think about the spoilery thing until I’d written my review, but, yeah, that was SUPER weird. O_o Sometimes I want to go back and edit my reviews after the fact. Lol. But I won’t.

    About Dell, though, I sort of believe it. I know I never had a helpful guidance counselor in my life. I had plenty of amazing teachers though, so please do not kill me. I think he was going to get fired soon, though. You can only float like that for so long.

    • Wasn’t it?? It really threw me for a loop.

      I respect your opinion. I was truly on the fence about this. I never utilized my guidance counselors except for once in 6th grade when I was bullied, but I know they worked hard and I am pretty sure his behavior would not get by the administration. I won’t kill you! I loved most of my teachers. But only a select few remain memorable in my mind.

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