I have no idea whether the middle grade readers for whom this book was published will enjoy it or not, but I loved it. Willow Chance is a twelve year old genius, but that one word isn’t nearly enough to encapsulate her distinctive voice and personality. She certainly can’t be classified in any of Mr. Dell Duke’s seven categories of Strange. Willow loves plants, and diseases (especially skin diseases), and the number seven. And she ends up with seven people in her life “who matter in (her) world”, seven people to rely on and who daily change (her) life:
1. Willow’s mom (always)
2. and Willow’s dad (forever)
3. Mai (Willow’s fifteen year old Vietnamese/African American friend who won’t tke no for an answer–about anything)
4. Dell (Willow’s screwy, overweight school counselor who doesn’t know the first thing about counseling or life)
5. Quang-ha (Mai’s hostile but artistic brother)
6. Pattie (Mai’s mom, owner of a nail salon and keeper of secrets)
7. Jairo Hernandez (a taxi driver for Mexicano Taxi who think Willow is his angel)
Willow herself has a Voice that won’t quit. She’s a real person, maybe somewhat autistic, but fully engaged with the world. Willow reminds me a little bit of my youngest, Z-baby. Willow gets hit hard by some of the worst stuff a child can go through in this story, but she is indefatigable.
There were a few details in the book that bothered me as an adult reader, the character of Dell Duke, the school psychologist, in particular. He’s completely unreliable and should never have been trusted with counseling children. In fact Dell Duke should be IN counseling, but he’s not portrayed as dangerous, just harmlessly nutty and incompetent. In fact, all the characters in the book are harmlessly nutty, and Willow fits right into this eccentric “family” of delightful weirdness.
Surely, this book will be a strong candidate for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction award for 2013. Nominations for the Cybils open on October 1, 2013 and close on the 15th.