Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.
Yes, I’m still on the “lighter reading” kick, recovering from Zadie Smith. I’m not sure why I picked this one up, actually. It was one of those things where I saw three mentions of it in a matter of weeks. (Mention one was on the “Pop Culture Happy Hour” podcast, and mention three was that it was on sale at Safeway. I seem to have forgotten mention 2, but in any case that was sufficient to pique my interest and get me to check it out of the library.)
Warning: Spoilers ahead, if you care about spoilers for children’s books.
If this is really a book for young kids and not just a “YA” book (which I think it is), I’m surprised at how dark it is. I mean, the premise is that both parents of the main character are killed in a car accident, and she has essentially no safety net (no aunts & uncles or grandparents, no close family friends, really no adults other than her parents looking out for her). I mean, I recently read a kids’ book by Neil Gaiman in which a baby’s whole family is brutally murdered in the first chapter and the baby escapes to be raised by ghosts. So maybe dark is the thing for young kids now? I expect it from Gaiman, but I didn’t expect it from the other book.
Plus, the parents get creamed in a brutal car accident immediately after getting a cancer diagnosis? Really? You couldn’t have found any other reason for the two parents to be in the car together? I honestly don’t understand the purpose of this cancer scene, especially given that no other character in the book ever even knows about it. Two dead parents and no safety net isn’t depressing enough for fifth graders to read about?
My other big gripe is the overly happy ending. It’s not enough that the weird little girl finds a family to take her in, but the family – to date living in a garage with no bathroom, window, or real kitchen – is RICH. Rich, rich, rich. So this fantastic mom has been socking away all this money, but making her teenage kids wear old clothes and sleep on cots all crammed into a single room? This literally makes no sense. Why would she do this? And how did she get so much money running a nail salon for just a few (or even a dozen) years? There’s not that much money in manicures! (Is there?)
Oh, and plus the fantastic (but money-hoarding-until-just-this-moment) mom and the fantastic (but weirdly religious) taxi driver have been secretly dating and are in love. And the taxi driver, who has driven the weird little girl on three or four trips over a few months, is going to now become her legal guardian?
It felt just completely unbelievable. And unnecessary. If the family had found a way to rent a decent apartment and take in Willow, because they had been caring for her and everything was going well… why is that not enough? Why do they need to buy the fucking building for us to have a sufficiently happy ending?
(And if that is what has to happen, why not have the money come from the sale of what had been Willow’s house? The author did explain that there wasn’t much in terms of life insurance, but presumably she did inherit the house. It could have been sold and the money put in trust for her care. Or something even remotely more believable than what is actually in the book.)
I actually really enjoyed this book more than is coming across right now. It’s well-written. I love the idea of a super nerdy black girl as a main character. And I think the depiction of her grief is really beautiful. But the ending is the last thing you read, so it colors your whole experience of the book retroactively. The super sappy over-the-top ending made me pretty pissed that I had spent so much time invested in the story. (Even though it wasn’t even that much time…)