Recovery in the Media: #50. Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s book

Both witty and touching, this novel shows an odd but brilliant girl who learns to deal with grief and heal.

50. Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Solan

Whenever I enter a library, a strong urge compels me to pick up book after book. Normally, I walk out with over twenty new items. Did you know that most libraries have a limit of 100 items that you can have out at once? Yeah, I found that out the hard way. Anyway, the book Counting by 7s stood out to me a few months ago at our little local library. Intrigued, I stuffed the novel into my overflowing book bag. Several times it almost was returned because I had plenty of required reading in school. However, I luckily kept the book and found myself enchanted with it. The main character is never diagnosed with a mental illness (despite the fact that she showed signs of one…more on that later), but the book still addresses important elements of recovery such as grieving, loss, hope, redemption, and support people.

Synopsis: Willow is not your average 12-year-old child. Her rapid thinking skills, ability to diagnosis medical conditions, amazing way with plants, and oddities distance her from classmates. Luckily, her parents give her great encouragement and support her dreams. When they are involved in a fatal accident, Willow is left with no relations or close friends. However her peculiar personality ends up touching more people than she ever guessed – the controlling teenager Mai, her moody brother Quang-ha, their loving but orderly mother Pattie, the under-confident taxi driver Jairo, and an unreliable, people-hating school counselor Dell. All of them come together to care for this young girl and grow through the process.

Recovery Pluses: Death, especially that of close family members, is excruciating. Willow must endure this and then try to continue on with life. At first, she turns away from what previously brought her joy such as counting, medicine, plants, and learning. However, her healing slowly unfolds and touches those around her. Grief, loss, and pain are a normal part of life. That does not make them easy to handle. In this novel, the reader sees how you can mourn deeply but also continue on with life. Returning to old hobbies and happiness takes time but is possible. The sorrow of losing parents, being abused, moving away from the home you love, or whatever you struggle with might remain painful. However, there is hope for a bright future despite your current hurt.

Willow is not the only character who evolves throughout the novel. While keeping her spunky personality, Mai softens as she helps Willow to recover. Meanwhile, the apathetic responses of Quang-ha lessen as he finally accepts the orphaned girl. Pattie becomes a more understanding mother who begins to care better for her children and provides them with a better living situation. Confidence fills Jairo as he returns to school and dares to open himself up to love and an improved job. However, the character that arguably changes the most is Dell. In the beginning, he labels each child he meets into a group of Misfits, Oddballs, Lone Wolves, Weirdos, Geniuses, Dictators, and Mutants. Listening, cleaning his living space, taking care of his  body, and respecting others are all things that he neglects. By the end, he is not perfect but still has transformed into a new man. Instead of being uncaring, he realizes the genius of Willow and the mutant nature of himself.

Regarding mental health, this book never addresses some of the odd habits of Willow. 7 is her lucky number which she always counts to, she obsesses over things, and few people understand her. Many of her traits reminded me of OCD or possibly aspergers. However, the author never addresses this. I ended up a bit annoyed by the lack of conclusion in this area. However, both the positives and negatives of an atypical brain are presented in the novel. This is not too common in books for young adults’, and I greatly appreciated it.

Cautions: There are few problematic spots in this novel geared toward young adults. The themes are a bit mature but relevant to many children such as death, loss, not fitting in at school, and family problems. The character of Dell and some deceit to the social worker might disturb some parents, but the book overall is suitable for middle-schoolers and older.

Counting by 7s enchanted me almost immediately. Witty but touching, this novel brings together a host of unlikely characters and exhibits both their worst and best qualities. Although I wish Holly Goldberg Solan would have outright addressed Willow’s OCD or aspergers, I recommend this book strongly. There are certain stories where you deeply connect with and understand the characters. This was one of those special novels.

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