Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Borrowed from my local library
I had a hard time liking this book for quite a while. The hardships and tragedies heaped onto 12 year old Willow Chance are beyond cruel. She has been adopted by wonderful people who nurture her and help her make her way in the world. Willow sort of needs this, as she's very different from her peers. She is very smart and has different interests. She is also a creature of habit. I don't know if she's supposed to be on that autism spectrum, maybe in the high functioning Asperger's area, or if she's sort of OCD, but she's definitely got issues.
She gets sent to a new school where she is accused of cheating, sent to the world's worst counselor, the king of the hygiene impaired slackers, and her parents are killed in a car crash. She has no family, no friends and no where to go.
What follows is Willow's journey from friendless orphan to guardian angel, tutor, friend, sibling, well-rounded person with a secure place in the world. I loved how she formed relationships and the narrative followed all the people who became part of her life. It's not that believable, but it made up for all the crap that Sloan dumped on the poor little girl's head. The author seemed to make a point of keeping Willow out of the system. I think that would be a totally different book. She also has her out of school for the majority of the book, probably for the same reason. You can have a book about foster care or a book about bullying, but that would really just muddy the waters here.
Instead, Sloan creates a world and a story that works for her character. Willow is smart and funny and self aware. Her world is turned upside down and pulled apart. Slowly, she tries to make her way through, and finds that the connections she's making are coming together to make a whole new life.
Sure, things fit together entirely too neatly and at the very last moment. Sure, there are so many ways in which this would never happen in real life. Sure, she goes from stranger to beloved and everyone overcomes all of their problems all at once. Poof! All better. But once Willow started to form bonds with people and things started to look up a little, I felt better. I'm a sucker. I was miserable reading about all the rotten things that kept happening to this poor little girl. I didn't care if the book spent more time flouting the systems that would have come in and increase the misery and wrongs, because I wanted something nice for this sweet little girl. I wanted her to have love and family and security and home. Do I care that I don't think this could ever happen to a real person? No, not even a little tiny bit.
This is a story of hope and finding your way when you are lost. Of course, in this case it happens because after shoving a girl into a big black, dank hole, before a support system appeared, lowered a rope and helped her back up into the sun. As a reviewer on goodreads noted, the money thing is really weird, and definitely overkill, but otherwise, realistic or not, I just wanted good things for this small band of misfits who were thrown together and found a way to make it all work.