The Wish Stealer by Tracy Trivas is a charming story about a young girl trying to navigate the dangerous waters of her first year of middle school. This path is complicated by the fact that she has been given an extremely unpleasant, perhaps even life-threatening, task by an old, horribly nasty woman who was a wish stealer.
Add in the ubiquitous snobby clique of middle school cruel girls, a cute and very nice boy, and several mysteries to be solved, and the result is a very satisfying story and one that will be chock-full of classroom discussion material or just family-around-the-table discussion.
Griffin Penshire accompanies her mother to visit an antique store where her mother, an astronomer, is looking for ancient astronomical tools. Griffin is about to leave the store when she is approached by the owner’s ancient aunt–“the oldest woman she had ever seen, wearing a long black dress with a wilting red lily pinned to it. With her greasy gray hair pulled tightly into a bun, the woman’s face resembled a shriveled apple. Wicked wrinkles gouged in her skin, and a grid of purple veins looked like a grotesque spiderweb covering her face.“
Mariah Weatherby Schmidt, the aunt, comments that she has only once before seen hair like Griffin’s, “half autumn leaves and varamel kisses, half lazing sunset.” She gives Griffin a gift, an old, rare, shiny Indian Head penny. Magic swirls in the shop as Griffin, against her inner instincts, agrees to take it.
The single penny is accompanied by eleven others and a letter from Mariah explaining that the pennies were stolen wishes. Each penny had been thrown in a fountain years before — when Mariah was a young girl — and Mariah had stolen them, along with the wishes they embodied.
Mariah also explains that from now on, Griffin is the keeper of the stolen pennies. Every time she wishes for something good, the opposite will happen. Only her evil wishes will come true. And if she tells anyone about it, none of their wishes will ever come true again.
How Griffin investigates, the mysterious happenings in her town, her mother’s eccentric character (and pregnancy), and Griffin’s clever solution to the problem will keep the reader entranced.
At the end of each chapter are quotes from luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (When it is dark enough, men see stars), Mark Twain (Courage is…mastery of fear, not absence of fear), and Les Brown (Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.) Each saying relates to the chapter that precedes it.
Also throughout the book are Shakespeare quotes and references to his work. The visiting witches quote from Macbeth while Griffin’s grandmother quotes from Hamlet. The references, of course, are relevant to the plot.
Throughout the book, Griffin struggles to stay true to her values, and if once or twice she loses that battle, well, she is only as human as the readers who will learn from her efforts. The book has many messages for the reader: Keep trying even if the task seems insurmountable; never give up on a dream; and helping others has its own reward.
This book would be a great gift for readers from eight to thirteen.