Wish Girl–like Nikki Loftin’s work Nightingale’s Nest–has moments where the characters and language seem to transcend the pages of the book. Peter has been severely bullied at school. In an effort to change his situation her parents have moved his family to a rural area of Texas.
His parents are more extroverted than Peter and his older sister, while she genuinely cares about him, is resentful about being taken away from her school and friends. They communicate primarily by yelling. When you add in a toddler younger sister and the fact that Peter is sensitive to noise in general it is easy to see why Peter struggles to find a way to belong and feel accepted within his family.
Wish Girl is Peter’s journey. It is the story of how he comes not just to realize what he needs from his family but he finds his voice to ask them for it.
Peter discovers peace in the quiet of nature and is at first disappointed to meet young Annie–a resident of a nearby summer camp also seeking to escape a place where she is frustrated and feels as though she doesn’t belong. Annie is terminally ill with cancer and doesn’t want to participate in the aggressive treatment her mother has scheduled because she is afraid of the long-term side effects. Her greatest desire is to be an artist and she is trying frantically to create as much art as she can before she loses herself to possible brain damage from medical treatment.
As Peter and Annie become friends he is amazed by the realization that she seems to like him exactly the way he is, without feeling he needs to be or behave in any other way. He is particularly moved when he finally tells Annie about the horrendous bullying he has been through and she cries for him:
Crying for me. I reached up and wiped her face with my hand. No one had ever cried for me, I didn’t think. Cried about me, sure, cried that I was such a loser son, such a failure.
But never for me.
This powerful moment speaks to the heart of the story in Wish Girl. A great independent or read-aloud choice, Wish Girl has the ability to open all kinds of discussion and insight with young readers–either together or individually.