Sunday, June 19, 2016

Book Review: Wish by Barbara O'Connor

 ... a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leave, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.
     Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth. 
     Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
     O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, and unfound door. Where? When?
     O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel (1929)

I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of Wish by Barbara O'Connor in exchange for this review. This is also a book that is being read by my #bookrelays group. I included the above quote because as I read this wonderful story, with its rich, fleshed-out characters living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I was reminded of Wolfe's novel. Look Homeward, Angel is a coming of age novel whose main character, Eugene Gant experienced the ups and downs of living in a family that lacked stability and the ability to stay on their feet. Gant constantly felt out of place and like a stranger in his own family.

Charlemagne Reese, who prefers to be called Charlie, has been sent from her home in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina to live with her aunt and uncle in the mountain town of Colby. Her father, Scrappy, is in jail because of his involvement in a fight. Her mother, Carla, has been deemed unfit to care for her children. Her older sister, Jackie, is old enough to stay at a friend's house in Raleigh.

Charlie is dreading her stay in Colby. She's been told by a friend that she would hate it; 'There's just red dirt roads and hillbilly kids there' and they probably 'eat squirrels.'

As time goes on, Charlie becomes accustomed to life at her aunt Bertha and uncle Gus' house and becomes friends with Howard Odom and his family. She takes in a stray dog and names him Wishbone.

Charlie is constantly wishing. She has a long list of things you can wish on, like four leaf clovers and the first star at night. But she has only one wish and she's been wishing for it ever since fourth grade.

Charlie is like so many of the students that I teach. Many of these kids have parents who are incarcerated and/or experience instability in their homes. Many of them have anger management difficulties and get themselves into trouble due to their inability to control their impulsive behavior. This is definitely a book in which kids will be able to recognize themselves.

But at the same time, this is a book in which I recognize myself and my own summertime experiences. Reading this book took me back to the days when I waded in cold creek water, sold garden vegetables out of a wagon, and froze Kool-Aid in paper cups.

I love that, because kids and grown-ups will be able to relate to this book, there will be terrific opportunities for all readers to develop relationships with each other. Relationship-building leads to empathy. When we understand each other, we can begin to get along and help fix problems. We certainly need more of that!

O'Connor has done such a wonderful job creating characters that are awesome role models. As Bertha, Gus, and the Odoms show Charlie the love and acceptance that make a family, we are inspired to be a little more patient and kind to our own families, friends, and schoolmates. As Charlie's friends and family constantly look for the best in their circumstances, Charlie wants to be more like that (and so do I). Even the dog sets a good example of learning to trust others.

I absolutely loved this book! It's one of those books that I enjoyed so much, I was kind of sad to reach the end. I was very reluctant to leave the world of this book! I so wish that I could sit on the porch overlooking the mountains, drink sweet tea with Bertha, Gus, and Charlie, and pet Wishbone with my feet!

Hardcover, 240 pages

Expected publication: August 30th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) 



  1. Ohmygosh!! Thank you for this amazing review! MUCH appreciated. I particularly like how you are able to connect the book with your students' home situations.

  2. What a truly special review. Made even more so by your own personal connection to the story. I adored WISH, and reading your review makes me want to go back to the book and start all over! In fact, I may just do that right now. :)