I love when a book ends up being even better than you expected!
In The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer, Lucy Hart’s life hasn’t been the easiest. She spent her childhood being neglected by her parents, who were busy taking care of her immuno-compromised sister. Lucy’s only comfort was the Clock Island book series, which hasn’t had a new installment for years. By now, Lucy is grown up and working as a teacher’s assistant and trying to get her life in order so that she can adopt Christopher, an orphan she met in the classroom a couple years before. She isn’t feeling too hopeful about the complex situation, until the author of the Clock Island announced a once-in-a-lifetime contest to win his new book, of which there is only a single copy. And, miraculously, Lucy has been chosen as one of the four contestants. So she journeys to the real Clock Island to compete, determined to win for herself and for Christopher. Be careful what you wish for, though, because you might get it.
I didn’t really have many expectations for this book, because admittedly I had been recommended this by someone in the book industry and didn’t really closely read the description. That said, this really exceeded my expectations, because it was delightful! I listened to the entire book in one day because I was so enchanted.
Firstly, Lucy is an excellent protagonist, very clever and sweet but also grappling with a significant amount of self-doubt as a result of her difficult childhood. It’s a moving part of the storyline, seeing how much children need love and attention, and how the lack of that can affect them so strongly into adulthood. However, Lucy has grown up very caring, and I loved seeing her interactions with Christopher. It’s such a lovely bond they have, and I desperately wanted her to become his mother legally.
I also loved the contest on Clock Island. The puzzles were so much fun, and the layout of the island sounds so cool; I wish it were a real place I could visit. And the man running the contest, the author Jack Masterson, is fantastic. He’s one of the standout characters in a cast of very memorable and endearing personalities. He reminds me vaguely of Arthur Parnassus, but with slightly quirkier tendencies.
Another major character is Hugo Reese, the illustrator of Jack’s books, who is on the island as well. He’s so fun, so grumpy but with such a caring heart. I loved watching him interact with Lucy and soften up. It’s also refreshing to see a male British lead not have that posh “received pronunciation” accent for once. The Cockney touch was perfect for the character, and the audiobook narrator Paul Boehmer did a stellar job portraying him (and the other narrator, Rachel L. Jacobs, also did great!).
Beyond the characters and the plot, there are scenes from the Clock Island books interspersed throughout the book. These are an excellent touch, often serving as parallels or metaphors for what is currently happening to Lucy. They also, somehow, give a sense of nostalgia for a book series I never read, and doesn’t even exist. Ultimately, this book serves as a love letter to those books that got us through the good and the bad times of childhood.
In the end, The Wishing Game was amazing. It’s like a less creepy, bookish version of Willy Wonka, if that makes sense. I loved the characters and the puzzles and the setting. The themes of found family, parenthood, and connection are beautiful. Reading this was a wonderful time, and so if you have a chance, pick this one up!
The Wishing Game will be published on May 30th, 2023!