Wish by Barbara O'Connor. 227 p. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August, 2016. 9780374302733. (Purchased)
After eleven-year-old Charlie's dad, Scrappy, is sent to prison to be "corrected" and her mom can't seem to drag herself out of bed, Charlie is sent to live with Aunt Bertha and Uncle Gus. Not only is she separated from her beloved older sister, she doesn't know these people and they live way out in the boondocks. Her best friend tells her she'll be going to school with hillbillies. She is not happy. At the best of times, Charlie is prickly and prone to fight, a trait she proudly believes she inherited from her father.
Nonetheless, Bertha and Gus are thrilled to have her despite the sulking and nasty comments. Her tough shell repels her classmates effectively except for Howard, a neighbor who lives in a noisy house with many brothers and walks with an "updown" walk. His persistent kindness is a true puzzle to Charlie.
Charlie does have one wish though. Ever since fourth grade, she looks for a sign daily to make a wish on and she has never ever told her wish. She feels unwanted and like she doesn't fit in anywhere. When she spies a dog skulking around town and learns that it's a stray no one seems to own, Charlie is determined to make it hers.
O'Connor evokes a strong sense of setting here and her characters, even the minor ones, are fully fleshed out. The town is fictional but it and the community are so well-drawn, I feel I would recognize Colby were it real. I kind of wish it was. Charlie is a keen observer and her voice is achingly compelling. I winced with each mis-step and fell more in love with Bertha and Gus as they continued to love Charlie unconditionally. Howard is an exceptional character also. He is lucky to be buoyed by a large, loving family to help him cope with his own troubles. He is a steadfast friend to Charlie despite her occasional cruelty.
I adored this book and will recommend it widely - to tweens who love dog stories and stories of friendship; to readers who love gentle, more thoughtful stories; and to teachers who might be looking for a powerful read-aloud to imbue important, discussable messages without a sledgehammer.