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Although grief itself is not hard to understand, the effects of this powerful feeling are often unpredictable. In the book Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, the main character, Willow Chance, experiences grief after she loses her parents. In her struggles to leave the past behind, she went through many changes. There were two main transitions that had the most notable effect on her: first, when she first moved in with the Nguyens and second, when she and the Nguyens moved to the Gardens of Glenwood.

When Willow first came to live with the Nguyens, she was still in shock. Right after she found out that her parents died in a car crash, her brain can barely function, and she loses the ability to talk. Her new friend, Mai Nguyen, decides that Willow couldn’t survive on her own, and decides that her family needs to take Willow in. However, Willow didn’t know that the Nguyens lived in a garage, so when she got to the Nguyens’ residence, she was caught off guard; this added to her shock even more. Had the Nguyens had proper quarters and sufficient resources to properly take care of Willow, she would probably have recovered much sooner.

Although Willow’s condition improved in the days after her move to the garage, the symptoms of her grief still showed. She used to be obsessed with medicines and diseases; because of her shock, even when she made interesting medical discoveries, she didn’t speak, and, if she talked at all, she just made a short, blunt statement, like: “Get some rest.” She used to count everything by 7’s; because of her shock, she couldn’t even count anything anymore, because she thought “she didn’t count in this world anymore (as in ‘she didn’t matter to this world anymore’)”. She also became some sort of hermit: she refused to go to school or even leave the garage at all unless she was going to the Nguyen’s family-owned nail salon or the library. However, we begin to see an improvement in Willow’s spirits after she moves to the Gardens of Glenwood.

At the Gardens of Glenwood (an apartment complex), Willow began enjoying life. She enjoyed life at the Gardens of Glenwood from the very beginning, in fact, when she cleaned up the apartment building with the Nguyens when they just moved in. She especially enjoyed it when she uses shards of broken glass to decorate a just-cleaned window. Then, she began finding joy in helping others, most notably Dell Duke, a sloppy but compassionate school counselor, and Quang-Ha, the Nguyen brother who at first was very behind in school (mostly because he didn’t care about it), but, with Willow’s help, got impressive homework and test scores and was moved to Honors and AP classes. However, none of these things impacted Willow as much as planting a garden (an actual one!) in the Gardens of Glenwood.

Willow thought the Gardens of Glenwood needed a real garden. Despite the name, since it was so hot in the area, no creation of an actual garden had been attempted. Since tending to her garden was one of Willow’s favorite activities in her old life, she thought that planting a garden would be easy. It was not. She attempted to start the garden up by planting dozens of sunflowers in pots and then transferring them to soil later. Although the initial planting worked out, when it came time to transfer the sunflowers to the ground, Willow could not find good soil; the only dirt around was covered with all kinds of filth. Willow decided to sell the lava rocks and tarp covering everything, just for a start. Then, after that was done, they used a Rototiller to till the dirt. However, that night, a powerful wind came and blew the dirt right off the ground, like a mini Dust Bowl. Fortunately, this uncovered more filth, which was washed away by a power sprayer, and, in the end, the had finally gotten to the bottom of the pile: clean, brown soil good for use. But, Willow couldn’t relax too soon, right after she started a mini-nursery on the roof, some maintenance worker through all the plants on the roof into the garbage. But it wasn’t over yet. Henry, a friend of Willow’s and a plant dealer, donated a cherry tree, a few bamboo stalks, and other exotic plants to the garden. After everything was planted, the garden looked much better than Willow had ever imagined. Although it was a tiring ordeal, planting a garden really improved Willow’s spirits.

Despite how hard the death of Willow’s parents hit her, she was ultimately able to overcome her grief. However, it was not just by herself, but also many others who worked together tirelessly to secure her future. The famous Roman philosopher and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero once said, “Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.”

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Puffin Books, 2013. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!

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