Counting by 7s - Chapters 5 - 8 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.
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In Chapter 5, although he had bigger plans for himself, Dell Duke, Willow’s counselor, wound up in agricultural California dealing with troubled kids. As the newest counselor, he has been assigned the kids the other two counselors don’t want. He’s imitated the retired counselor’s idea of putting the kids into categories, but had no intention of doing as much work as his predecessor. His system is called the Dell Duke Counseling System where he put his students into four groups of strange: misfits, oddballs, lone wolves, and weirdoes. Instead of labeling his professional files with these titles, he’d given each category a number and color to represent it. When Willow appeared in his office one day, however, Dell found she defied his attempt to categorize her.

In Chapter 6, Willow quickly decided Dell was not healthy and wished she could take his blood pressure. As he talked, she considered calculating the calories in the jellybeans on his desk, but then decided counting them by sevens would be more fun. She had not told her parents she’d been assigned to a counselor because she wanted them to think the school year was going well. She felt guilty because she’d erased the message about the test results from her parents’ voicemail and hacked her mother’s email to respond to the principal’s message that she needed counseling. In her counseling session, Dell decided to play a word association game with Willow. Willow was intrigued by her counselor when he made a comment about female lemurs being the leaders of their packs.

In Chapter 7, Dell realized the only reason he knew about the lemurs was because of a nature program he’d fallen asleep watching. He was almost inspired by Willow’s intelligence. He decided he needed to add a new category to his classification system. He deemed Willow a genius, a category he coded metallic gold.

In Chapter 8, Willow noticed her teachers and fellow students treated her differently after she was called to the principal’s office for cheating, but she began looking forward to her meetings with Dell. At her next session, Dell gave her more standardized tests, all of which she aced. He wanted her to come back the next day for another session. When she arrived that day in Dell’s office, she saw two other people already there. There was a boy who was coloring in a geometric coloring book while a girl was sitting with him. The girl told her she could come in as they were almost done. Dell had gone for a soda, she said. As Willow waited, she studied the girl next to her. She found her interesting and wondered if she was Native American.


Dell and Willow’s counseling sessions make up the main topic of these four chapters. Although Willow had been sent to counseling because her teacher believed she had cheated on a standardized test, Dell soon realized this was not the case. He was both excited and cautious because he was dealing with a type of student he’d never had experience with before. These chapters are important because they give the background on how Willow came to be seeing a guidance counselor. They detail Dell’s interest in this child who is unlike any he’s ever counseled before. They also tell how Willow became aquatinted with Mai, the girl she met in Dell’s office.

The theme of categorization is furthered in these chapters as it is described how Dell came up with four categories in which to place any student he counseled. Once he’d put each student in a category, Dell doesn’t have to do much work, he would just follow a script based on what he thought each child wanted and needed based on the category into which he’d put them. The shortfalls in his system were uncovered when Willow came to his office and he had to create a new category because he couldn’t force her into any of the ones he’d already created.

Dell is a major character in the novel so it is important to study his personality as it is described in this section of chapters. He seemed to have had high ambitions for himself that never quite worked out the way he wanted them to. He doesn’t seem to have any family or friends that care about him, as it is pointed out he never even had a farewell party when he left Walla Walla, Washington because no one cared he was going. He seems content to get by with as little work and as little effort as possible. He’s overweight, his clothes and hair are unkept and he’s lazy. With Willow’s interest in health conditions, she observes him and quickly determines that he is unhealthy. She advises him to get his blood pressure checked.

Note in Chapter 5 that the point of view changes from the first person point of view of Willow to a third person narrator focusing on Willow’s story from Dell’s point of view. This is a technique the writer uses to not only allow Willow to tell her own story, but to get the input of other characters on what is going on in the background as they discover Willow’s unusual intelligence and strange personality. Chapter 7 is also written in third person with a focus on Dell. Chapters 6 and 8, however, are both written from a first person point of view.

Discussion Question 1

Consider Dell’s classification system. Is it fair to the students? Is he doing them any favors?

Discussion Question 2

Why does Dell have trouble classifying Willow? Do you believe he is correct in tagging her as a genius?

Discussion Question 3

Why does Willow not tell her parents she is being required to go to counseling? How does she describe her feelings of guilt?


truancy, ironic, quantify, mavericks, fixate, memorabilia, spherical, longevity, deleterious, duplicitous, psychosis, primate, aptitude, microdosing, aura, feverish, peripheral, indigenous

This section contains 1,013 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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