I’ll be honest – I’m usually not a fan of realistic young adult or middle grade fiction. This may sound shallow, but I find it hard to read books that are just about characters or people. You know. The main character has a problem (a cheating boyfriend or divorcing parents or an antisocial personality), struggles with the problem, is helped by a faithful best friend, has a falling out with the faithful best friend halfway through the book that is resolved by the end, and ends up accepting himself/herself in 250 pages or less. I know I’m giving broad generalizations here. However, I finally found a book that might change my mind about realistic fiction.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan defies the stereotypes of young adult realistic fiction – yes, the main character has a problem, and a pretty serious problem at that (her adopted parents die in a tragic accident). However, Sloan creates such interesting, label-defying characters that the book can’t possibly be a cookie-cutter novel. Willow (the main character) is thrust into a seemingly unbelievable situation – her adopted parents die, and there is literally no relative to take care of her. Despite the absurdity of her situation, her impeccable vocabulary, and her love for all things botanical, Sloan manages to make Willow’s character believable and lovable. You also won’t be able to help but fall in love with the other Characters (with a capital C) she meets along the way, such as Pattie the nail salon owner, who takes Willow into her home and who is obsessed with the lucky color red. Or Willow’s counselor Dell, who categorizes the kids he counsels into “groups of the strange”, and at one point in the novel is kicked out of his apartment by Pattie so they can hide the fact that her family lives in a garage from the department of human services. Or Willow’s taxi driver Jairo, who thinks Willow is literally an angel after she diagnoses a growth on his neck as melanoma.
Counting by 7s starts with a tragedy, but the book is more about the resilience of the human spirit, and about a group of oddballs (because we really are all oddballs, aren’t we?) come together to form a family. It defies genre, and it defied the image I had in my mind of realistic young adult fiction. I highly recommend it to girls and guys of all ages.