HarperCollins, 2016 313 pgs
Natasha is the oldest of three sister who are merely a year apart in age. Their mother left when Natasha was only five and now they are being raised by two aunts, while their father continues to grieve and exist "checked-out" of life. In the small town in which the girls live there is a magical willow tree. It is called the "Wishing Tree" and girls on their thirteenth birthdays are granted three wishes when standing under its branches. Natasha is taken by the aunts on her thirteenth birthday and makes the following wishes: for her Mother to still be alive, to be kissed by a boy, and to be somebody's favorite. The wishes are made and at first nothing seems to change, but then mysterious notes start appearing for Natasha. She has no idea who they are from, but they seem to indicate that she is actually somebody's favorite. Can they be from her crush, popular-boy Benton? As Natasha's seventh grade year progresses she finally gets that first kiss, although not from where she initially suspected. Her relationships with her sisters and bossy best friend grow and deepen as Natasha develops in both maturity and confidence. An encounter with the town's eccentric "Bird Lady", who keeps popping up throughout the book, seems to have some answers for Natasha concerning the fate of her mother, but Myracle keeps that plot-line unresolved, leading readers to the next installment in the trilogy.
Myracle is a master at writing books that middle school girls will devour. She is a very popular author and manages to capture the voice and feelings of adolescent girls perfectly. Usually writing contemporary realistic stories, Myracle wanders into the territory of magical realism/light fantasy, along the lines of Alice Hoffman or Lisa Graff, while still keeping her pulse on the hopes and dreams of young girls. The premise of the Wishing Tree is cool and the realistic friendship/sibling relationship story-lines will connect to most readers. The mystery of the identity of the secret admirer will keep readers turning pages and the first kiss is satisfyingly awkward, humorous and sweet all rolled into one. The Bird Lady character doesn't quite jell with the rest of the story, but maybe she will make more sense as the trilogy unfolds. At times the book drags and it feels a little longer than it needs to be. I think most girls will be envious of Natasha and her wishing tree. I could have used such a thing at thirteen and it will inspire many readers to imagine what their own wishes would be. Myracle explains in an author's note how she longed for something magical to happen when she was thirteen. I felt the same way. I know my daughter was very disappointed when that owl never arrived inviting her to start her term at Hogwarts. Even though you get to a certain age and realize magic isn't real, it is fun to wonder "what if?" First in a projected trilogy, it seems that Myracle will focus on the wishing day of each sister in turn and, eventually, solve the mystery of the mother's whereabouts.