Sara Grochowski

Review: Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin

Title: Wish Girl
Author: Nikki Loftin
Publisher: Penguin
Pub. Date: February 24, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade
Rec. Age Level: 8-12
Pages: 256
More by this author: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, Nightingale's Nest
A dying girl gives a boy the strength to live in this lyrical novel that will break your heart and lift your spirit...

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.
Wish Girl is one of those special books that so clearly demonstrates the magic and agelessness of children's literature. This third novel from Nikki Loftin is an incredibly beautiful novel, filled with characters and prose that will undoubtedly wriggle deep into your heart.
“Turns out, it's not running away when no one notices you're gone.”
Peter Stone is a quiet boy who feels perpetually adrift. Quiet and introspective, he struggles to make friends and bullies find him an easy target. Even at home Peter feels alienated; his family, loud and extroverted, struggle to understand and connect with him. After his mother discovers dark and hopeless entries in his journal, the family packs up and leaves the city behind, hoping that escaping the bullies and negativity will allow Peter to start over. Of course, Peter can't outrun what's in his head. The pressing need to be alone drives him out into the nearby tranquil valley, where he finally feels like he has escaped and can be himself. I love that it is through nature, this beautiful but sometimes dangerous valley, that Peter finally finds and accepts himself.
“'It's part of the art,' she explained, motioning toward the stream. 'The bringing together of the pieces, then the way they disappear when it time - the wind, or water, or gravity, whatever - makes the art lose its hold. It's not meant to stay forever. Some people,' and she paused. 'Some people wouldn't get it. They'd do all sorts of unnatural things to make it stay just like it was. Glue it, staple it, cement it. Even though that would ruin it.'”
When Peter first encounters Annie Blythe, he's angry. Finally, finally he has found a place that is his, where he can be alone, and there she is. But, despite his initial reaction, he finds he likes Annie. Instead of cutting conversations short, he can't help but ask her questions and, before he knows it, he's aiding in her crazy artistic pursuits. Much to Peter's surprise, with Annie he finds companionable silence and reflective conversation. She isn't like the people Peter wants to escape and she isn't quite like Peter either. Instead, she is just unapologetically herself. Artistic, opinionated, bossy, and devoted to living the fullest, most artistic life she can in the time she has left. The friendship between Peter and Annie is hands down one of my absolute favorites. It's honest and deep and powerful.

The valley where Peter and Annie meet begins as a way for each of them to escape the 'real' world, where they feel overwhelmed and unwelcome. Readers soon realize, however, that the valley is more than just a place, it's a character in its own right - a unique, stubborn, magical character, just like Peter and Annie.
"'No,' she said again, 'I don't want to die. Not at all! But don't you see, I'm going to anyway?' She pointed at her chest. 'What is death, Peter? It's when you stop being you, right? When that something, that spark or whatever, goes out. And that's what's coming for me.'”
Because Annie is terminally ill and Peter struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, conversations of death do play an important part in this novel. While Annie doesn't want to die, she thinks it preferable to the brain damage and loss of self and autonomy her impending treatment will likely cause. Peter's friendship with Annie, seeing her fear and lack of choice, forces him to confront his own depression and thoughts of self harm. I often hear adults protesting to the inclusion of these themes and discussion in MG literature because they feel their young readers need something lighter or cannot handle talk of illness, depression, and death, but I truly feel that younger readers need books like Wish Girl. As much as these difficult and often taboo topics are uncomfortable and scary to talk about, they are real and they affect people everyday. Hiding from them, choosing ignorance, benefits no one.
“'Sometimes,' she said, after a few more seconds of silence, 'sometimes you got to act. You can't wait. You got to do what needs doing, before the world makes the decision for you.'”
I know it's early, but I feel this book is a likely 2015 Newbery contender... It's one I'll be recommending for years to come, award or no.

Highly recommended.
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