Counting by 7s

by Holly Goldberg Sloan | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 1848123825 Global Overview for this book
Registered by erinacea of Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on 6/14/2016
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by erinacea from Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Tuesday, June 14, 2016
I first encountered this book at Leipzig's Book Fair when some students presented the nominees for some kind of Best YA Fiction award. It was pretty noisy in that particular room and I only stayed for a very short time, but I caught enough snippets from this book to be intrigued. Naturally, they also had the book in the conference place's bookstore but somehow the writing didn't hook me the way the students' presentation had done.

Back at home, I re-encountered this book/copy in an English bookstore. I recognized it from the author and blurb, and this time I found the writing much more to my taste. It probably makes more sense to read the book in English anyway.

Having finished last week's "book of the week" early (in time for a meetup), I started this one late on Friday. It actually was supposed to last me well into this week but it was just so good that I sort of plowed right through it and finished it on Sunday, which means I am now 2 weeks ahead in my one-book-per-week challenge (the other book having been Interesting Times) and that's only if I don't count rereads of books I knew beforehand. So yay, go me! :D

I loved this book. Willow was a difficult character to like but I warmed up to her same as the other characters did. I'm actually not sure whether this was a deliberate choice of the author, but my own reaction to her character certainly fits with the theme of her finding her own place in the world.

Being highly gifted (and possibly slightly autistic), the girl has trouble making friends in school. To begin with, her parents make up the entirety of her support network, so when her parents are killed in a car crash, Willow's world shatters into pieces. Losing one's parents at an early age is one of the greatest tragedies to befall a human being (the other one being parents losing their children) but due to her reclusive nature Willow is perhaps more strongly affected than others in her situation.

In all her misery, Willow is lucky enough to have met and continue meeting people who despite being virtually strangers take it upon themselves to look out for the girl. At this point it would have been easy for the author to have Willow immediately find a replacement family in a group of strangers (Spoiler, highlight to make visible and that is what eventually ends up happening) but Sloan doesn't fall into that trap. These bonds take time to grow, there are conflicts and problems and sometimes lucky breaks, but it all feels very natural. The other characters, each with flaws and passions of their own, also feel very realistic and are very likable in their own special way.

I feel like the cover isn't very well-chosen. It's a pretty cover to be sure, but having one fish swim against the tide is a rather trite metaphor that doesn't really fit Willow's situation or way of thinking at all. I think that the message of the book is that Willow ends up finding her own place in the world not after changing to become someone she's not (as is initially advised to her) but that she's accepted and even finds friends despite being different. My point is that this is not exactly a deliberate choice on her part, that she doesn't actively rebel against any preconceived notions. It's part luck and part other people realizing that having her around enriches their own lives too. Also, despite her many unusual interests, Willow never shows any interest in fish and in fact, since the book plays in an extremely dry part of California, the ocean is only ever mentioned once (when Willow remembers how much it frightened her). On the other hand, she's absolutely fascinated by plants. Gardening ends up playing a large role in the book and there's no shortage of great metaphors involving plants (the different kinds of plants, the conditions for a flower to bloom, striking roots). I feel that a cover involving sun flowers (each of them unique) or a blooming garden in bleak surroundings would have fitted the theme of this book a lot better.

I loved this book. Highlight of the year so far!

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