Puffin Books; 2014
In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.
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.
This isn’t an easy read. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to keep a box of tissues nearby. The novel explores the grieving process and the comfort of consistency.
Willow loves the number seven. In addition to considering it be a natural and prime number, she also finds joy in finding things that fit a pattern of seven: colours in the rainbow, the seven people that matter in your world, and the seven categories of people that Dell, Willow’s school counselor, comes up with.
A great element in this story is how Holly, the author, shows that no matter how alone we may feel, that isn’t really true – we all have people who are a part of our lives. This can be in a direct and tangible way, such as the Nguyen family – who host Willow soon after her parents’ passing – and Duke Dell, the school counselor. Indirect but still meaningful interactions include those between Willow and Jairo, a taxi driver who takes her around.
Willow’s grieving process becomes clearer as she navigates life in Dell’s apartment complex, which has a dead garden that she nurtures back to life. You will find yourself rooting and cheeri Willow on, especially as her quirky, off-beat personality starts emerging alongside the flowers and plants coming back to life.
This is a great story on its own. It’s more profound for people who are in mourning for loved ones, especially those lost to the pandemic, or are in a metaphoric grieving process – mourning lost jobs, life changes, etc. that was triggered by our ongoing situation.
It is also a great reminder that we need to reach out and maintain our connections with each other. It also highlights the importance of kindness in our daily lives and interactions, whether with those in our immediate circle or those around us (at work, on the street…).