From the back of the book: In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
Let's just get one thing out of the way--this is a book written for kids somewhere between the ages of 8-12. I didn't buy this book to read with Lizzy (more on that later), I bought it just for myself because sometimes I think children's books are honest and refreshing in a different way than books written for adults often are.
This was a quick read, and also a really enjoyable one for me. Yes, many of the circumstances that Willow finds herself in are improbable and totally unlikely to ever happen in the "real world". Still, if you can suspend that bit of skepticism for just a bit, there's a really endearing story that's NOT just for middle schoolers about grief, loss, family, and hope. I really do recommend this one to people of all ages--it's worth your time.
Now, more on reading this one with kids. Lizzy is 7. She reads pretty well for her age, and I think that in terms of reading level alone, she could read this one with minimal help. It's clean in terms of language, and overall, I think it's a really solid book for kids in probably 4th-8th grade. That said, this book also centers around the death of both of Willow's parents, and subsequently deals with the realities of trying to place a 12-year old in foster care. At one point, another character quips something like, "Once all your baby teeth are gone, no one wants to adopt you."
I think that right now, those types of issues are a little too emotionally advanced for Lizzy. For example, she doesn't really have a problem with the original Cinderella movie knowing that Cinderella's mom died, but she had a harder time with the more recent re-make where you really get to know Cinderella's mom before her death. In this case, you're told about the death(s) right up front, but then you circle back and get to know Willow's relationship with her parents, and I think that overall, that sort of dynamic would just result in more anxiety, tears, and emotional distress than I'm ready to handle right now. I think in a year or two, she'd be able to read it and see the hope past the tragedy, but right now, she'd only see the tragedy. So when it comes to "can my kid handle this book?"...you know your kids best. You know whether this is something that they're able to handle emotionally or whether it's not. Trust your gut.