Children's Review: Wish

Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese ("Charlemagne is a dumb name for a girl and I have told my mama that about a gazillion times") has plenty of reasons to make a wish--a father in jail, a mother who can't get out of bed, "getting shipped off to this sorry excuse for a town to live with two people I didn't even know"--but there's just one wish she makes every day. Charlie wishes on the first star at night, three birds on a telephone wire, a camel-shaped cloud, a cricket in the house. But if you tell a wish, it won't come true, so even when she becomes friends with Howard, a "little ole redheaded up-down boy" (one of his legs is shorter than the other, so he walks with a hitch), she keeps her wish a secret as long as she can.

Charlie doesn't get off to a terrific start in Colby, N.C. She antagonizes her teacher and fights with her classmates. As she says, "If I had a nickel for every time I've heard 'The apple don't fall far from the tree,' I'd be rich. Daddy fights so much that everybody calls him Scrappy." She's baffled by Howard's refusal to fight back when kids tease him, but "what good is that?" he asks. After Charlie gets in trouble for kicking a girl in the shins who makes fun of her old white majorette boots, Howard advises her to say "pineapple" when she feels herself starting to get mad: "That'll be like a code word to remind yourself to simmer down. Mama taught my little brother Cotton to say 'rutabaga' every time he gets the urge to draw on the wall." With the help of Howard, a stray dog named Wishbone and Aunt Bertha and Uncle Gus (her remarkably tolerant temporary guardians), Charlie begins to learn not only how to tame her temper but to understand that the long-wished-for "family that wasn't broken" may not be the one she was born into.

Barbara O'Connor (How to Steal a Dog; The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis; The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester) captures a traumatic transition in a young girl's life without resorting to sentimentality or hard-to-believe happy endings. Charlie doesn't get exactly what she wants, but she does get what she needs, given the circumstances. Her prickly behavior is real and understandable and even charming at times, but readers will cheer as she settles and softens into authentic happiness. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Shelf Talker: When 11-year-old Charlie is sent to rural North Carolina for a more stable home environment, she finds surprising happiness with a friend, a dog and a kind aunt and uncle.

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