Counting by 7s - Chapters 33 - 36 Summary & Analysis

Holly Goldberg Sloan
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Summary

In Chapter 33, Mai stays after school on Fridays for a program for at risk teens. As she waits at the bus stop after her program, Mai thinks about the way that Willow has said everything in life can be compared to a garden. The flowers teach the lessons about life, death and the stages in between better than anything else, Willow had told her.

Meanwhile, Quang-ha is surprised when Dell’s car pulls up to him after school and he is ordered to get in. Dell only tells him that Pattie and Willow are in his apartment fixing it up as if they lived there. Quang-ha has his doubts but his mother calls him and tells him to pack up the things from the garage. Dell is shocked when he sees the Nguyens’ living arrangements. He understands now why they listed his address instead of their own on the social work papers. Quang-ha begins to get excited because he feels as if he and his family are breaking some sort of rules.

In Chapter 34, Willow and Pattie haul Dell’s underwear down to the laundry room and start the first load. Pattie mops and cleans the kitchen before Dell gets back with the groceries and Quang-ha. Pattie sends Dell out with another list, and then orders Quang-ha up to the roof to remove the tarp from the skylight. Quang-ha is angry because he’s already been told to take a bag of wine bottles to the trash. Willow offers to help. She follows Quang-ha up to the roof. He drags the bag of bottles with them. As they pull the tarp from the skylight, the bag of bottles falls over and the broken pieces from a bottle falls onto the skylight. The two don’t say anything but they both think the same thing as they begin breaking the bottles to cover the skylight. Back inside the apartment, Quang-ha rearranges the furniture. Willow praises his work.

In Chapter 35, Dell goes to a bar while Lenore Cole is inspecting the apartment. He adds a new category to his Dell Duke System of the Strange. That category is dictator for Pattie. Meanwhile, Mai is unhappy because she’s had to take a second bus to get to Dell’s apartment. She is upset because she’s afraid she may have hurt Willow more by insisting that she stay with them. She steps on an acorn and notices it doesn’t smash. It hurts her foot so she kicks it into the street where a car hits it. When she sees the acorn hasn’t been flattened she decides it is a survivor. She makes up her mind to give it to Willow when she has a chance.

In Chapter 36, Lorene Cole doesn’t stay at the apartment long so Willow assumes they’ve passed. She wishes the lady would go far away. As Lorene Cole drives away, Mai walks up to the apartment. Willow tells her about the apartment and their bunk beds. In the apartment Willow thanks Pattie for what she has done for her. They eat dinner, and then settle down in the living room to wait for Dell. Pattie is folding his underwear. When Willow leans back on the couch, the acorn pokes her. Mai suggests the acorn may be lucky.

Analysis

In this section of the novel, the dynamic in the relationship between Qunag-ha and Willow changes. First, when Quang-ha learns that his family is working to make Dell’s apartment look like they live there, he is excited because he feels they’re doing something illegal, which appeals to him. He’s long felt like an outcast because his sister never gets in trouble, but he seems to stay in trouble all the time. This excitement fades when Quang-ha realizes he is going to have to work harder than he wanted to. In his sour mood when he’s asked to take out a bag of wine bottles to the trash and also remove a plastic covering from a skylight, Quang-ha accidently breaks one of the bottles. When Willow and Quang-ha see the way the colored glass makes the light from the skylight come alive, they don’t even have to discuss plans to finish covering the skylight with broken glass pieces. Bonding between the two seems to begin first with this craft project, then when Willow compliments Quang-ha on the way he arranges the furniture in the living room.

Meanwhile, Mai is afraid she has hurt Willow more than she’s helped. Mai feels she may be giving Willow false hope that she can stay with them and only prolonging her introduction into a foster home. She knows her mother’s concern that they don’t have the money to support another child, and already live in a garage. It seems that the nut that Mai steps on reminds her that even something small and insignificant can be resilient. Since Mai hopes that Willow will be like the acorn and survive this tough spot in her life, Mai decides to arrange for Willow to find it.

Notice also in this section that as Mai looks at the rose bushes near her bus stop she thinks about the things Willow has taught her about the life cycle of plants. Willow understands life by comparing it to what she has observed in her garden. She’s taught Mai that the life cycle of plants mirrors that of people. This idea adds to the theme of gardens and plants seen in the novel.

Adding to the theme of classification, notice that Dell adds another category to his system of the strange to describe Pattie. This is one of the problems associated with the attempt to classify people, every time a person with a different personality trait is discovered, a new category has to be added. It is indicated that Dell’s act of putting Pattie in a category, however, helps him to feel as if he is regaining control of his life.

Discussion Question 1

How are Willow and the acorn that Mai finds in the street similar? Why do you think Mai decides to give it to Willow in secret?

Discussion Question 2

The novel indicates that Dell adds a new category to his system of the strange in order to help himself gain control. How do you think this act of labeling Pattie helps him feel in control?

Discussion Question 3

What is your opinion of the Nguyen family’s plan to pretend they live in Dell’s apartment? Is it a good idea? A bad idea? Do you, like Mai, think the whole process may be doing Willow more harm than good?

Vocabulary

morphs, detritus, qualitative, hermit, pragmatist

This section contains 1,126 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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