Happy MMGM, Reading Nook!
Today, we're reviewing the delightful Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin. The book first came across my radar via Favorite Librarian - who insisted it was on his must-read list for the spring.
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Hardcover, 256 pages
Published February 24th 2015 by Razorbill (first published February 1st 2015)
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Peter Stone’s parents and siblings are extroverts, musicians, and yellers—and the louder they get, the less Peter talks, or even moves, until he practically fits his last name. When his family moves to the Texas Hill Country, though, Peter finds a tranquil, natural valley where he can, at last, hear himself think.
There, he meets a girl his age: Annie Blythe. Annie tells Peter she’s a “wish girl.” But Annie isn’t just any wish girl; she’s a “Make-A-Wish Girl.” And in two weeks she will begin a dangerous treatment to try and stop her cancer from spreading. Left alone, the disease will kill her. But the treatment may cause serious, lasting damage to her brain.
Annie and Peter hatch a plan to escape into the valley, which they begin to think is magical. But the pair soon discovers that the valley—and life—may have other plans for them. And sometimes wishes come true in ways they would never expect.
As Wish Girl opens, Peter Stone and his family have just relocated to the Texas Hill Countryside. While his extroverted family members are finding it hard to adapt, Peter's enjoying the quiet and being able to think - especially in a newly-discovered valley, full of nature and mystery.
During one of his trips to the valley, he meets Annie Blythe, a young girl or a Make-A-Wish-Girl, who is about to undergo dangerous leukemia treatments. Though wary at first, Peter realizes that Annie is a kindered spirit, with big dreams for them both.
With a title like Wish Girl, Loftin firmly establishes early on that:
1) The book will contain elements of magical realism, and
2) Also share some of the challenges of what it is to have to deal with chronic conditions and chronic self-esteem issues from early age.
Loftin handles both aspects extremely well, showing how Peter and Annie quickly bond with one another, clearly finding like-minded spirits in how they both choose to approach the world.
It's almost like watching two puzzle pieces come together, with Annie's unique, no-holds-barred personality helping Peter come out of his shell, while Peter's desire for quiet and contemplation, helps Annie better figure out what she wants for herself. There's almost an underlying reminder that one sometimes does need to reach out to others - as hard as it may be for someone like Peter - because the reward of that reaching out will be tenfold, as evidenced by the magic of the valley.
And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the magic of the valley at this point. The magic of the valley is felt in every page of the book, but especially as we see how the magic can protect and assist those who are in need. While I'm sure that this is something that will be interpreted differently by each reader, I loved seeing the magic help both Peter and Annie gain self-confidence in their own ways, as needed.
Outside of the core relationship between Peter and Annie, Loftin also asks some thoughtul questions on perception, and how sometimes, we never really know just what another person is thinking, unless we hear it from them. There are a lot of fractured relationships in the book - from Peter's parents, to the two neighborhood bullies, to Peter's own fractured relationship with his family - and without condoning or dismissing them, Loftin challenges us to ask just how those relationships developed that way, and what can be done to fix it.
It's a strong lesson for young readers to comprehend, but it's also a timely one. Loftin is helping young readers begin to accept the idea that face-value appearances aren't always everything (e.g. Peter's initial fear of the Colonel's wife), and that sometimes, we need to make the effort to dig deeper.
I read through Wish Girl in record time, but I was definitely sad to see the story end. I could have easily spent many more days hanging out and enjoying the magic of the valley like Peter and Annie, and I'm confident that readers of all ages will feel the same.
Of special note: Loftin doesn't hesitate to discuss issues like bullying and depression throughout the book, including the various ways that people will deal when faced with such issues.
Educators and parents will likely appreciate her candidness about the issue - Peter isn't the only character to admit to having down moments - and also appreciate her gentle, thoughtful reminders that the world is a magical place, and sometimes, it's up to you to carry on the magic for those who cannot.
Loftin has written a heartaching book (that's also heartwarming and heartbreaking!) on realizing that a person's individual differences are okay, and that there will also be those who will love and embrace your differences, but also give you the strength to stand up for yourself.
I would love to give this book to every Peter and every Annie that I know and will come to know in my life, and I'm confident that other readers will feel the same. I highly recommend this book for fans of middle grade fiction, but also for educators and parents who are looking for books for their younger readers.
About the author:
Nikki Loftin lives and writes just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, chickens, and small, loud boys. She is also the author of the multiply starred-reviewedNightingale’s Nest and The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, which Publishers Weekly called “mesmerizing” and Kirkus called “irresistible." You can visit her online at www.nikkiloftin.com or on Twitter @NikkiLoftin.