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Richie's Picks: COUNTING BY 7s

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  • peter_lake_2000
    Richie s Picks: COUNTING BY 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Dial, August 2013, 384p., ISBN: 978-0-8037-3855-3 We are stardust, we are golden And we ve got to get
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2013
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      Richie's Picks: COUNTING BY 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Dial, August 2013, 384p., ISBN: 978-0-8037-3855-3
      "We are stardust, we are golden
      And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden"
      -- Joni Mitchell
      "My hometown, like a lot of the central valley of California, has a desert climate and is flat and dry and very hot for over half of the year. 
      "Since I've never lived anywhere else, whole months of days when it's 100 degrees outside seems normal.
      "We call it summer.
      "Despite the heat, there is no escaping the fact that the bright sun and rich soil make the area ideal for growing things once you add water to the equation.
      "And I did.
      "So where once our house had a rectangle of grass, there is now a forty-foot-high stand of timber bamboo.
      "I have citrus trees (orange, grapefruit, and lime) next to my year-round vegetable garden.
      "I grow grapes, a variety of vines, annual and perennial flowers, and, in one small area, tropical plants.
      "To know me is to know my garden.
      "It is my sanctuary."
      Meet twelve year-old black, bespectacled, self-aware genius and gardener Willow Chase, who is obsessed with the number 7; obsessed with studying and observing medical conditions, and obsessed with plants.  Not long into the story, Willow is suddenly thrown out of the Garden when her white adoptive parents die in a horrific car accident. 
      Leading up to the accident, Willow has, herself, been following a collision course that begins with being referred by her school principal to a counselor named Dell Duke, this being the result of the principal's determination that Willow has cheated on a State standardized test.  (She completed the test in 17 minutes and was the only student in the State to answer every question correctly, which might provide a clue as to why she hasn't been at all engaged with middle school, other than as a silent observer of bizarre behaviors.)
      Counselor Dell Duke (who categorizes the students he works with as THE STRANGE, MISFITS, ODDBALLS, and LONE WOLVES), quickly learns that he needs a whole new category for this young woman.  And in the wake of Willow's second loss of parents in her short life (having already been adopted the first time), it will be counselor Dell Duke; plus one of the other students he works with named Nguyen Quang-ha; plus Quang-ha's sister Nguyen Thi Mai; plus Quang-ha and Mai's mother Pattie; plus a taxi driver named Jairo Hernandez; who will affect and be affected by this amazing girl. 
      COUNTING BY 7s reminds me of BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE because of the way that Willow is saved from going to the pound (being thrown into The System) by unlikely heroine Pattie Nguyen, (Quang-ha and Mai's mother), the Vietnamese immigrant proprietress of a nail salon.  Like India Opal Buloni's decision in the moment to lie about the stray dog and claim ownership,  Pattie lies about her relationship to Willow, who she's just met, and this sets the stage for a profound and moving story in which a whole group of idiosyncratic characters are brought together, find family and community, and have their lives enriched and changed forever by this amazing genius of a girl. 
      "I pulled my wheeled luggage to the cab door and leaned in through the open window as I said: 'I would like the number of your taxi license and to see proof of your compliance with brake and headlight adjustment requirements.'
      "The driver's name was Jairo Hernandez, and he had been driving for Mexicano Taxi for seven years."
      I particularly love how taxi driver Jairo Hernandez virtually hits the lottery again and again for having randomly and so fortunately encountered Willow on that first taxi ride. 
      (And I love how what comes around goes around.)
      COUNTING BY 7s also makes me think of Natalie Merchant singing of people struggling and fighting for the simple pleasures in their lives.  This is a tale of at-risk kids and at-risk adults, and it makes it that much sweeter to see what comes to them all because of Willow Chase.
      One final note: The cover of COUNTING BY 7s, in which a bright red fish is seen swimming again a large school of nondescript fish, is notable, engaging, and perfect for what is contained in these 384 pages that had me swimming right along with Willow from beginning to end.
      A big-time middle school read.
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