Counting by 7s - Chapters 1 - 4 Summary & Analysis

Holly Goldberg Sloan
This Study Guide consists of approximately 71 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Counting by 7s.
This section contains 1,516 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)


Willow Chance’s loving, protected life is destroyed when her parents are killed in a car wreck. With no close relatives or friends to take her in, social services workers search for a permanent home for her. As she bonds with a group of unusual friends, Willow works through her grief using the form of life of which she is most familiar, a garden. Willow improves the lives of those around her in unexpected ways and is rewarded with a surprise set of guardians.

In Chapter 1, Willow eats an ice cream cone with her new friend Mai, Mai’s brother Quang-ha and Dell Duke, the adult who brought them to the restaurant. After they finish their treat, Dell grudgingly drives the three past the park, Hagen Oaks, as Mai suggested, but they don’t get out of the car. Willow has called both her mother and father to let them know she’ll be late but neither has called her back, which is unusual. When Willow and her companions get to Willow’s house, there is a police car in the driveway. The police talk to Dell and assume because he’s a school counselor, Willow knows what has happened. When Dell indicates she doesn’t, they ask to speak to him alone. Willow can hear them talking and learns her parents have been killed in an accident. She wants to go back in time and asks if anyone wants to go with her.

In Chapter 2, Willow describes herself as being an adopted, only child who is about to start a new school. She calls herself strange. She loves the number 7. Willow says she is of color while her parents are so white they are almost blue. She has an obsession with medical diseases and likes to sit at shopping malls where she can observe people and their difficulties. Her other obsession is plants.

Willow was first titled as “weird” in kindergarten when she told the teacher a book made her feel bad, then went on to talk about the germs on the floor. An educational consultant told Willow’s parents that she was highly gifted. For this reason, her parents helped her cultivate a garden to stimulate her mind and give her a hobby.

In Chapter 3, Willow’s garden became a family project. The garden gave her a window into different forms of companionship. At age eight, she rescued and nursed back to health a baby green rumped parrot that fell from the nest. Up to this point in her life, Williow’s had only one close human friend, a girl named Margaret whose family moved to Canada. Willow and her parents hoped that her move to Sequoia Middle School would signal a change for her. She studied up on teenage relationships and decided she would wear her gardening outfit on her first day of school. She suspected one of her parents put a magazine on her bed with an article about what a person’s clothes say about them even though neither of them would take responsibility for it.

In Chapter 4, Willow thought she was ready for middle school because she was prepared on an academic level. When she got there, she realized she wasn’t. Girls were screaming, boys seemed to be attacking each other. One girl even thought Willow was a janitor because of the way she was dressed. After three hours she called her mom to pick her up. On the seventh day of middle school, Willow aced a standardized test. She was called to the office and told she would be required to see a behavioral counselor because the teacher thought she cheated. Her counselor’s name was Dell Duke.


In these first four chapters, the framework for the novel is laid. Willow Chance is an adopted girl who has just learned that her adoptive parents have been killed. Willow gives the reader a bit of her background in these chapters. She describes herself as being “of color” probably meaning she is of African American heritage but her parents are white. Family is important in this novel, particularly the idea that a group of people doesn’t have to be the traditional mom, dad and kids all of the same race, to be a family.

Willow is also highly intelligent. She likes to study other peoples’ medical conditions, diagnose them and suggest treatments. She enjoys conducting experiments. Because she spends so much time doing brain activity, and not much cultivating relationships, she and her parents transform their yard into a garden. The project is meant to give Willow an outlet to experience different types of companionship. Willow’s closeness to her garden is displayed by the way she often describes things in terms of gardens and nature. For instance, when she is sent to the principal’s office after making a perfect score on a standardized test, she describes the other students as buzzing like “pollen soaked worker bees” in Chapter 4. She also tries to make a joke as she tells them the “human corpse flower has blossomed.” She is right when she assumes no one gets the correlation she has made between herself and the unique flower that has just bloomed in her garden. This reference to her garden and her description of the way her garden is her refuge sets the stage for the theme of plants which will appear throughout the novel. Because plants are the things with which Willow has learned to socialize, she interprets her life and the things around her in terms of nature.

Several themes are introduced in this section of the novel. Since Willow’s parents have just been killed, grief and the stages one goes through while grieving are important. This theme is introduced by Willow’s desire to go back in time once she’d learned her parents were gone. Another theme that is introduced is that of the frustration that comes with being put in a category. Willow has been categorized since she was in kindergarten when the other children called her a weirdo. At the suggestion of her teacher, Willow’s parents take her to an educational consultant. This consultant tells Willow’s parents that Willow is highly gifted. Willow believes it is bad to see a person as just one thing. She believes each person is made of many characteristics that make them who they are.

Note also Willow’s obsession with certain things, like the number 7. This number is her favorite number. One of her escape techniques is to count by sevens. Her parents adopted her on the 7th day of the 7th month making seven is an important number in Willow’s life. Also important to her is the color red. She indicates she likes this color because it is important in nature. The color red will continue to be seen throughout the novel.

Notice that although Willow is only a child, she has a very realistic grip of her own affect on people. She knows she’s strange. She seems okay with it. She’s searching for people who will accept her for who she is instead of trying to change to fit the world’s expectations of her. While her adoptive parents seem to want to cultivate her intelligence and give her other means of companionship, the garden for instance, they seem to prod her a bit to outwardly be more normal. For instance, they don’t make any comment to Willow when she announces she plans to wear her gardening outfit on the first day of school but their behavior indicates they don’t approve. Later, however, a teen magazine about the message one sends by the clothes they wear show up on Willow’s bed. It seems her parents are underhandedly trying to give Willow advice on how to fit in without taking responsibility. Willow, however, persists at being herself.

Also important to notice in this section is the shift in tense that takes place in Chapter 2. Chapter 1 is written in the first person point of view. Although it is indicated in the beginning of Chapter 2 the time frame is two months prior to her parents’ death, the first portion (about 6 pages) is written in the present tense. After Willow describes her garden, and turns her focus back to her first days in school, the tense turns to the future. The remainder of Chapter 2 as well as Chapters 3 and 4 are written in past tense.

Discussion Question 1

What is your first impression of Willow? What might you have thought of her if you’d had her as a classmate?

Discussion Question 2

How does Willow’s garden substitute for human companionship? Why do you think it is noted Willow believes her parents encouraged the gardening because plants don’t talk back?

Discussion Question 3

What is Willow’s opinion of the labels given to people? Do you agree with her opinion? Why or why not?


edible, paraffin, precise, contracting, exclude, correlation, quantified, onomatopoetic, chronicle, diagnostic, sanctuary, sequence, horizontal, metallic, stimulated, biorhythms, jaundiced, inhibitions, impressive, aptitude

This section contains 1,516 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
Counting by 7s from BookRags. (c)2016 BookRags, Inc. All rights reserved.
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