A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a tearjerker. If you're not up for weeping over it with your child, best to trot out Night Before Christmas instead. There are some toy brands mentioned, there is some mild swearing, and Matt's mother is a drug addict. Also, characters don't believe in Santa.
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What's the story?
Liz is a child of privilege looking for deeper meaning in her life after the death of her infant niece. Tack is the hardworking, caring son of a restauranteur who wants to help others. Matt is a longtime foster child filled with rage. And 8-year-old Katie, also a foster child, just wants a family.
These four are brought unexpectedly together when Tack's father creates a wish tree for the needy in his restaurant, Matt hangs up Katie's wish for a family, and Liz's callous father rips it up. But Katie has had her hopes unreasonably raised, and when she sees the wish is gone, she believes that means a family has chosen her.
Is it any good?
Yes, this is a string of clichés: loving orphan needing a family, callous rich people, near death in the snow, warm hearts, happy endings, a few good sobs along the way. But when it's stylishly and lyrically done by a veteran YA novelist, and it's December, that most uncynical of months -- well, what more could anyone want? This is what happens when a cliché is put into the hands of a master.
Before the waterworks start in the last quarter of the book, take time to savor Caroline Cooney's beautiful writing, the way she allows the reader to climb inside the heads of the major characters, and the chapter titles, each a line from a different carol that relates to the story. Come January you may feel sheepish about having sobbed over this one, but during the holidays it touches the heart in the most satisfying way -- so powerfully, in fact, that it may get the whole family out of the house on a quest to help others.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the foster care system, and what it must be like to be a part of it. The book gives especially good insights into the thoughts and feelings of kids with no fixed home. Also, was Matt wrong to hang up Katie's wish? Was Liz's father right? How do the chapter titles -- lines from different carols -- enhance the story?