Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
[I received a digital advanced reader copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
This story is narrated by Red, a 216-year old oak tree in a residential neighborhood, who starts out telling the story of his life, the animals who reside in and around him, and about the curious custom that has developed, where on the 1st of May every year, people ties wishes to his branches. As the story evolves it comes to focus on the girl who lives in the house next to him, and takes on the broader issues of prejudice and intolerance.
I'm afraid I'm going to be one of the few dissenters who is not absolutely enthralled with this book and does not give it an overwhelmingly glowing review. I had a very hard time getting into the story at first, for a couple of reasons. To start with, the format was somewhat off-putting to me. I have read other books written in free verse that I really enjoyed, but this one seemed very choppy to me and did not flow well at all, particularly in the beginning. Rather than being led from one thought to the next, it was a struggle. Also the story really dragged in the beginning and did not really seem to hook the reader and draw them in early enough. In all honesty, I probably would not have finished if it was not by a well-known author and I did not know people would be asking it about it.
As the book progressed, it seemed to become more narrative in nature and became more interesting as the conflict was introduced, both the issues of intolerance towards Samar's family and the issue of whether Red would be cut down. Once the story really got going, I was much more interested and found it very enjoyable. While I enjoyed Red's storytelling, especially the story of Maeve and how he became a wishing tree, Bongo was easily my favorite character, with her banter and mischievous "deposits", as well as her tender-hearted gift-giving. While I tend to be a bit cynical and often suspicious about authors' true motives when they seem to be jumping on the latest social justice bandwagon, I must admit the ending did make me tear up (as well as laugh when Bongo gave someone a well-deserved "gift").
Many refer to this as book all children "must read", and while I have no doubt that it will be assigned in many a classroom this year as well as mentioned numerous times as a potential award-winner, I really wonder how many kids would really find it appealing and enjoy reading it? I think this is one of those children's books that is more appealing to adults than children. Adults will describe it as "beautiful" and "powerful", but I'm afraid many kids might describe it as "boring". I think the slow pace at the beginning would be an obstacle for many readers, though if they can get past it, I think they would find the rest of the story much more enjoyable as I did. Still, I think this book is best for those who don't need a lot of action and dialog to draw them in, and can appreciate something that is more "quiet" and thoughtful in nature, and especially those with an interest and appreciation for nature and relationships between people and nature. Recommended for ages 9-13.
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