A story of renewal and belonging that succeeds despite, not because of, its contrivances.
Twelve-year-old genius Willow Chance was adopted as an infant by her “so white” parents (Willow is mixed race) and loses them both in one afternoon in a convenient (plotwise) car accident. Outside of her parents, she has a hard time making friends since her mishmash of (also convenient, plotwise) interests—disease, plants and the number seven—doesn’t appeal to her fellow middle-grade students. Losing her parents propels her on her hero’s-journey quest to find belonging. Along the way, her fate intertwines with those of a confident high school girl named Mai and her surly brother, Quang-ha; their energetic, manicure-salon–owning mother, Pattie (formerly Dung); Jairo Hernandez, a taxi driver with an existential crisis; and a failure of a school counselor named Dell Duke. With these characters’ ages running the gamut from 12 to high school to mid-30s and their voices included in a concurrent third-person narration along with Willow’s precise, unemotional first-person narration, readers may well have a hard time engaging. Relying heavily on serendipity—a technique that only adds, alas, to the “leave no stone unturned” feeling of the story—the plot resolves in a bright and heartfelt, if predictable conclusion.
Despite its apparent desire to be all things to all people, this is, in the end, an uplifting story. (Fiction. 10-14)