When it comes to contemporary novels, I tend to gravitate toward middle-grade contemp and Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7’s reminded me why I love this genre so much. Counting by 7’s is a moving, heartbreaking, yet utterly heartwarming, story about 12 year old genius Willow Chance. Willow, with her obsession with plants and disease diagnosing, inability to connect with anyone but her parents, and habit of counting by 7’s, is extraordinarily odd. When Willow’s parents are killed, her organized, routine based life is turned upside down and she finds herself living in an unexpected place, with unexpected people, and discovers some wonderfully unexpected things about life.Holly Goldberg Sloan drew me in quickly with her oddball genius main character and her subtle, yet totally sparkling storytelling. There are so many wonderful things I love about this book: the refreshingly different characters, Willow’s voice, the tangible and excellently woven emotional aspects to the story, and its powerful message of love; friendship; and acceptance. Most of the main characters, including Willow, are people of color and mixed races, which we don’t see nearly enough of in any genre. And while the various races and cultures are celebrated and explored within Counting by 7’s, they aren’t lazily used to define the characters; which I appreciated. The characters’ personalities and character growth and development are what define them and make them richly complex and well-crafted.And these are unforgettable characters that I grew to greatly love. One of the most impressive aspects of Sloan’s storytelling and writing ability in this book is Willow’s distinct, memorable voice. Sloan has managed to capture Willow’s extraordinary genius and uniqueness, while still making her sound and feel 12 years old. And there’s something so captivating in the mix of Willow’s logical observations, frank honesty, profound musings and her still childlike wonder and point of view. This is a character that really captured my heart and moved me. I felt like Willow almost became a part of me as I read this book, and I not only witnessed her emotional journey, but experienced it with her. Willow’s new surrogate family is equally memorable in their individual and group uniqueness, oddities, and refreshing differences. And Sloan has done a great job of creating very real, perfectly flawed characters. This book is rich in emotions and, trust me, you will feel them ALL! Sloan has beautifully and authentically explored the all consuming world of grief and heartache and all that comes with it. Yet, this story is as hopeful, delightful, and inspiring as it is dark and heart-aching, and it is surprisingly funny. As much as I enjoyed (and even loved) this book, I must admit that I found the ending disappointing and lacking, which keeps me from giving this book 5 cupcakes. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but I will say that it felt forced and contradictory to the rest of the story :(MY FINAL THOUGHTS: The disappointing ending aside (which you can easily re-imagine), Counting by 7’s is a wonderfully moving and captivating read. Willow Chance is a truly unforgettable character and I’d recommend this book merely for her alone, but luckily for readers the rest of the book is pretty great too. I think older middle-grade readers and up will get the most enjoyment out of this book.