Redemption sneaks in through the back door for so many of these characters.
The catalyst is Willow Chance, an oddball genius with nearly nonexistent social skills. She is an observer of the world and its inhabitants. Yet while she is aware of the smallest detail in others, she is incapable of figuring out how to fit in with her peers. Friendless and bored witless in her middle school classes, she is thought to be a less than average student. When she aces the standardized test in 17 minutes, she is accused of cheating, and as a newly named troublemaker, ends up under the auspices of Dell Duke.
Dell Duke is a loser, a school counsellor with no empathy or compassion for the kids sent to him for help. One day, when Dell is late, Willow meets Mai and Quang-ha Nguyen. Mai becomes her first friend since grade 5.
When Willow's parents are killed it's Mai who ensures Willow is taken care of. Mai and Quang-ho's mother, Pattie, takes her under her wing. Pattie is like a whirlwind as she takes charge to make sure that their temporary charge of Willow goes without a hitch.
Willow triggers something in everyone she meets. Through interactions with her, the lives of this motley cast of characters are transformed. Jairo Hernandez, the cab driver, ends up in college. Quang-ho becomes a successful student. Mai lets go of her need for control and is less anxious. Pattie's business booms and she realizes that she has to make permanent changes for her own family. Dell's metamorphosis is most pronounced. To his surprise, he finds himself caring about Willow. Then he connects to, and begins to care about the Nguyens, and eventually even himself.
In turn, her interactions with this group help Willow transform from awkward genius into confident young woman.
"I will go forward into the world and do my best to be the daughter that my parents would have wanted me to be.
I'm not brave; it's just that all other choices have been thrown out the window."
Sloan has written a profound novel about the power of love, family, and friendship. You'll wonder how these remarkable characters are getting by long after the last page is turned.