- Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Losing your parents once is bad enough, but Willow Chance is unlucky enough to experience such a bereavement twice, losing her birth parents when she was adopted in her infancy and her beloved adoptive parents when they're killed in a car crash shortly after Willow starts at her new middle school. The gifted, eccentric, and somewhat obsessive Willow has no obvious place to stay until a foster home is found for her; she therefore ends up making a home of convenience with schoolmate Mai Nguyen, Mai's sullen older brother Quang-ha, and their hard-working mother Pattie in a situation made possible by the school counselor, the inept Dell Duke, who's coerced by Pattie into covering for them with the authorities. What is initially an arrangement of desperation turns into a new life for the Nguyens and for Dell as well as for Willow, but Willow knows that it must all come to an end when her social worker finally manages to find her a foster placement. There are echoes of Horvath's Everything on a Waffle (BCCB 3/01) in this quirky story of life after tragedy, but it's still a deeply original tale; Willow's narration effectively conveys both her outlier tendencies, with her fierce focus on scientific details of botany and her love of the number seven, and the utter, flooding grief she suffers [End Page 54] in the wake of her loss. Characterization is sharp yet joyful, with Willow and Mai bonding over not only their racial outsiderhood (Willow is mixed race and Mai Vietnamese) but also their ability to take charge of a situation or an inept adult, while the secondary cast is also afforded nuance and development. Generous-sized print and compact chapters mean the story moves more quickly than its length suggests, and when Willow finally puts down new roots both figuratively and literally (she renovates a garden at their apartment complex), readers will rejoice.