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Newbery or Not: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Book Blurb: 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.

Pub Stub: Dial, ISBN-10 0803738552, August 2013

Author Tidbits: Sloan, Holly Goldberg. 2012 YALSA Best Young Adult Fiction List selection for I’ll Be There (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011). Hails from film industry. Wrote script for Angels in the Outfield.

Newbery or Not: I’m certain Counting by 7s won’t win the Newbery for two reasons. First, the Newbery is for children’s literature, and Counting by 7s is something of a YA/children’s crossover. Second, while it deals with important human issues, it fails to really label those issues and push them to the forefront. For example, when you describe the heroine to someone, they will knowingly nod and say, “Oh, it’s about autism/Aspergers/spectrum disorder,” because that’s such a high-profile topic right now that suddenly, everyone’s an expert. However, while she has traits akin to those of someone on the spectrum, Sloan never labels her and the book isn’t about those traits. It’s about grief and friendship and love. It’s an amazing book, honest and hilarious and just remarkable. I love every page of it. The characters are expertly developed, particularly the lovably and usefully weird heroine, and everyone in the story saves everyone else in the story. Counting by 7s is beautiful, and if it does win the Newbery, I’ll be the first to throw a giant party for it. But Newbery books tend to plainly use their characters as a lens through which to view societal issues past and present, and 7s doesn’t explicitly do so.

Weigh in: Can you see Counting by 7s taking home the medal?


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