This section contains 1,823 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)
Willow Chance is the main character of this novel. She is a 12-year-old who has been categorized as highly-gifted by educational counselors in her grade school. Dell Duke, her counselor at Sequoia, believes she is a genius. Willow realizes she is strange and accepts herself as she is. She searches for people who will accept her as she is. Willow loves the number 7. She studies medical conditions and likes to diagnose problems and suggest treatments. Willow draws comfort both from her garden and from books.
Willow’s parents are killed in a car wreck early in the novel. Willow’s problem lies in the fact that her family had no close relatives and few friends. There is no one to take guardianship of Willow and this exceptional girl is in danger of being put into foster care. Because Willow has taken enough interest in Mai to learn Vietnamese so they can talk in Mai’s native language Mai becomes Willow’s champion, convincing her mother to take charge of the girl.
Willow feels she as if she in the way and causing inconveniences for others while she’s staying with Pattie and her family. In reality, Willow has been enriching the lives of those who are taking care of her just as much as they are helping her. Pattie and her children move out of the garage they’d been living in to an apartment because they need a real home for visits by the social worker. Although Dell is ousted from his apartment by Pattie, Pattie does get him organized. Her family becomes a surrogate family for Dell. For Jairo, Willow is his guardian angel. She encourages him to go back to school, tells him about a dangerous mole on his neck and leads him to win $20,000 at the college bookstore when he becomes the one millionth customer.
Through the course of the novel, Willow struggles with her grief over the death of her parents. She worries about what life will be like after she is taken from Pattie and her new friends. She compares herself to a sunflower that is temporary but is putting down roots with Pattie. Willow is surprised when Pattie and Jairo step forward to take custody of her. She realizes that life will go on.
Dung “Pattie” Nguyen
Dung “Pattie” Nguyen is the mother of Mai and Quang-ha. She agrees to take charge of Willow after she sees her own grief as a child, outcast by her family, reflected in Willow’s face. Pattie is half Vietnamese and half black. She had her children with a Mexican who left the family when Mai was a baby. Although Dung was her given name, she gives herself the name “Pattie” when she moves to America.
When Dell meets Pattie, he has to add yet another category to his system of classification. He labels Pattie as a dictator. Pattie is small, standing only five feet tall, but powerful. In truth, Pattie does boss Dell around quite a bit but Dell seems to need someone to boss him around in order to get him motivated. Pattie is very organized and pays close attention to detail. In just a few hours she is able to use her organizational and dictator skills to transform Dell’s trashy apartment into a place that looks like a family might live there.
Surprisingly, it is also learned near the end of the novel that Pattie is quite wealthy. While she worked in the nail salon and she and her family lived in the garage, she has amassed a significant nest egg. She decides to use this money not only to secure guardianship of Willow, along with the help of Jairo, but also to buy the Gardens of Glenwood.
Jairo Hernandez is the taxi driver who Willow encourages to follow through with his goal of going back to school. When Willow first calls Jairo to pick her up from Pattie’s salon, Pattie seems suspicious of him. The two talk in Spanish, naively believing Willow can’t understand that language. She hears Jairo tell Pattie that Willow had saved his life. Earlier, Willow had not only told Jairo not to let anyone tell him he couldn’t do as he wished, but had also warned him about a dangerous looking mole on the back of his neck. After Willow runs away from the hospital, Jairo is angry when he sees how terrible she looks. He is afraid someone has done something to hurt her and thinks to himself if that is the case, they would have to answer to him. With Willow’s prodding, Jairo decides to go back to school. While buying his college textbooks, he turns out to be the store’s one-millionth customer, a coincidence that nets him $20,000. Jairo knows the money will pay for all of the classes he ever wants to take. He credits Willow for his good fortune. Jairo, along with Pattie, apply for guardianship of Willow.
Mai Nguyen becomes Willow’s champion after she realizes the girl has put so much effort into learning Vietnamese. Even though their families never knew each other, Mai lies to the police and tells them the two families were close. She manipulates her mother and convinces her to keep Willow for the night. Mai is self confident and not afraid to stand up for what she believes is right.
Although Quang-ha is Mai’s older brother, Mai has been in charge of keeping Quang-ha out of trouble for years. She is the opposite of her angry, deviant brother. Mai is intelligent and keeps out of trouble. Mai’s life is enriched by Willow because her family is finally able to move out of the garage in which they’d lived for so many years. She has her own bed and a room she shares only with Willow.
Quang-ha Nguyen is Mai’s older brother. He is the reason why Willow and Mai meet. He is a deviant who Dell at first classifies as a lone wolf but later goes back and reclassifies him as an oddball when he realizes the teen has artistic talent. Quang-ha is angry when Willow first comes to live with them. He has lost what little privacy he once had. Quang-ha has an artistic ability that intrigues Willow. She also helps him with his homework and his grades begin to improve though he seems to be irritated by his new status as a smart students. He also shows an interest in Willow’s gardening talent. Later, after the garden at the apartment complex is complete, Quang-ha tells Willow he doesn’t want to know how Willow did it, he wants to believe that she is magic.
Willow describes Dell Duke as not being a bad person, but being bad at being a person. Her description seems adequate for this overweight, underachieving school counselor. Before he meets Willow, Dell seems to avoid really getting involved in any other person’s life at all costs. With Willow, Dell gets dragged into the situation before he can really do anything to get away. Once he gets involved in Willow’s situation, Dell finds that he is capable of making changes, a metamorphosis that seems to surprise him. He begins losing weight and taking responsibility for his actions. He helps Willow with her projects and even briefly considers trying to get guardianship of her by himself.
Roberta and James “Jimmy” Chance
Roberta and James Chance were Willow’s adoptive parents. Although her parents were white, Willow describes herself as dark-skinned. Even with their differences, she says the three of them seemed to fit together. The Chances adopted Willow when she was just an infant and have cared for her her entire life. Although they’ve encouraged Willow’s highly intelligent mind, they’ve also seemed to drop hints that she should do more to fit in with other people. Roberta and James are killed in a car wreck when the truck in which they are driving is t-boned by a medical van. When the wreck happened, the couple had been driving to a doctor across town to have a tumor in Roberta’s breast removed.
Cheddar is the cat that Dell sees in a found cat ad and claims as his own. He brings the cat to a counseling session with Willow but the cat runs away and cannot be caught. Believing that Cheddar was Dell’s pet, Willow, Mai and Quang-ho make posters, hoping to find the cat. Dell sees the cat later, but leaves him to defend for himself. Later, on the same day the Dell tears down a fence and hit a school van, he encounters Cheddar in the parking lot. The cat is hungry and scared. Dell decides to start taking responsibility for his life and the choices he’s made, beginning with Cheddar. At the apartment complex, Sadhu is allergic to cats so Cheddar goes to live with Willow. The two become fast friends.
Henry E. Pollack
Henry E. Pollack is the man who runs the Southside plant nursery. When Willow started her garden with her parents, it was from him they would buy their plants. Willow had even looked at and identified fungus and insect infestation for him in the past. Later when Willow goes to Henry explaining the project she’s undertaken at the Gardens of Glenwood, he agrees to help. She does not expect a large truck full of plants and four volunteer workers. The plants include a box of timber bamboo, a three-year-old cherry tree and a variety of flowering vines and ground cover.
Miss Judi, the school nurse, is the one person at Sequoia Middle School who Willow says she will miss. Willow would fake headaches to get out of going to P.E. and would instead be sent to the nurse’s office. During her time there, she and Miss Judi would talk about diseases. She said they shared a love of germ eradication.
Sadhu Kumar is the man with whom Dell shares an apartment after Pattie and the children take over his. Willow describes Sadhu as an angry adult and suspects he must have had a lot of disappointment in his life. It is from him that she gets the three old computers that she combines into one working computer as a gift for Dell.
Judge Biederman is the judge who presides over the request made by Pattie and Jairo to take custody of Willow. Although Pattie and Jairo haven’t followed any of the proper procedures to get custody of her, the judge agrees to overlook all of the red tape and grants them custody.
Lenore Cole is the counselor assigned to Willow’s case. Willow first does not like Lenore but later realizes what a hard job the lady has.
This section contains 1,823 words
(approx. 5 pages at 400 words per page)