Friday, September 14, 2012

Heather's Book Review: Wish by Joseph Monninger

I started Joseph Monninger’s Wish assuming, for some reason, that it was a book about mermaids. Really, it is a book about a teen girl, her terminally ill brother, and sharks. The sharks were enough to make me keep reading. Normally I’m not a fan of sick kid books because 1) they are depressing, 2) they make a saint of the sick kid without truly acknowledging how much it stinks to be terminally ill, 3) the crisis point in the story is always predictable, and 4) you just know someone’s going to die at the end of it all. Wish is half of these things—different in some refreshing ways, but ultimately what you would expect from a novel that makes a big deal about granting a slowly dying kid’s biggest wish.

Fifteen-year-old Bee has a brother with Cystic Fibrosis. Said brother Tommy is eleven years old, but his lungs keep him from acting like one because they frequently fill up with mucus, thus (among other things) making it difficult for him to breathe. However, while he can’t do very physical activities, he is also a shark enthusiast in the way that only eleven year old boys can be. His biggest wish is to get the chance to swim with sharks, and when a Make-a-Wish-style organization offers him the chance to do just that, he, Bee, and their desperate-for-companionship mother head to California to satisfy his greatest wish.

As Terminally Ill Kid stories go, Wish is not a bad read, though it is a typical example of its story type. It mixes tragic moments with uplifting ones, but is never melodramatic, nor deeply saccharine, and is thus a book I would recommend for a teen who is in a similar situation as the main character. Also, the angle provided by Tommy’s zealous love of sharks and shark facts makes the novel significantly more interesting than it would have been otherwise, and even ties in with Tommy’s perspective on his illness in several interesting ways. Bee, too, has several meaningful realizations over the course of the story that could be relevant and encouraging to any reader in her place. Also—spoiler—Tommy doesn’t die at the end, another benefit for a reader looking for some hope in their sibling’s situation.

Wish’s main flaws, to me, are the middle two that I mentioned earlier. First, it almost sanctifies Tommy. In this book, he isn’t an eleven year old kid frustrated with life because his lungs don’t work. He’s a serene, pleasant boy whose quiet acceptance of his condition is admired by and inspiring to all characters in the book. Bee notices some moments of disappointment in him over the course of the book, but even these are subtle, contained, “Look at how brave he’s being!” moments. I remember myself at eleven. Colds and minor knee scrapes gave me reason enough to be mad at the world for days at a time, so I find it hard to believe that even a fictional eleven year old could go a whole book without being more than lightly disappointed at his lot in life. Second, the book has a predictable crisis point. When Tommy gets a chance to swim with his hero and shark attack survivor Ty Barry, our finely honed Reader Senses see that the book is near its end, and then tell us that it’s time for the story’s crisis and climax. It’s not even surprising when an Ominously Huge Wave comes to act on its Ominous Hugeness, with Tommy in the middle of it.

Another significant flaw, in my opinion, was the inclusion of a minor romantic arc between Bee and the young surfer Little Brew, which emerges late in the novel. The story having focused on her relationship with her brother until this point, this arc seemed out of place. Also, throughout the novel, a lot of strife is caused by their mother’s determination to find a new male companion, even in the midst of a trip that is so clearly supposed to be about her son. Bee is especially frustrated by this, so when she decides that a relationship with this hot, kind (and generally perfect and bland) surfer dude could enrich her in some way, it feels even more out of place, and even a little hypocritical on her part. I doubt this was the intention of the author, since the book is intended to be a positive one, but it was nonetheless present—and irritating. Generally I can’t stand books where girls think their problems can be solved by getting a date (unless that date can bring something other than Being a Hot Boy to the relationship). I especially can’t stand it when they get irritated at their moms for doing the exact same thing.

Overall, though, for the reader who is looking for a book of its sort, Wish is a book worth trying.

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