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Review of Better to Wish

Better to WishBetter to Wish [Family Tree]
by Ann M. Martin
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    231 pp.
5/13    978-0-545-35942-9    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-545-53926-5    $16.99

The typical historical fiction set during the Great Depression is a story of financial hardship — but it’s not lack of money that’s the issue here, in this first of what will be four novels about succeeding generations of women. For eight-year-old Abby and her family, the decade of the 1930s begins with a rise in family fortunes and a move into town (from a modest cottage by the sea in tiny Lewisport, Maine, to a fancy house in a fashionable neighborhood). In a set of short vignettes, one or two per year, we follow Abby through her childhood to 1940 when, at eighteen, she makes the decision to leave home (an epilogue shows her in New York City, working at becoming a writer). As we receive these bulletins, we start to fill in the various strands of the story: an abusive, bigoted, controlling father; a mother prone to depression after a series of miscarriages; the accidental death of a best friend; the family tension caused by a disabled baby brother; issues of class; the poor boyfriend, the rich boyfriend, and the spare boyfriend. The approach here is plain, with lots of unapologetic telling, but the story has that addictive quality of the multigenerational family saga. Who has secrets, and who knows them? What alliances are formed? Who inherited what qualities? Who escaped? Who got lured back? What were the major consequences of minor actions? We’re hooked. Bring on the next book, about Abby’s daughter Dana, without delay.

From the July/August 2013 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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