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Book Review

Wish by Barbara O’Connor has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Ten-year-old Charlemagne (Charlie) Reese has been sent to the hillbilly town of Colby, North Carolina, to live with an aunt and uncle she hardly knows. Her short-tempered father is in jail and her distant, self-centered mother has been deemed unfit to care for her. Jackie, Charlie’s big sister, has nearly graduated high school and gets to stay in Raleigh with a friend.

Aunt Bertha and Uncle Gus live in a farmhouse anchored to a hill by stilts. Charlie’s room is full of canning jars, and the house is overrun with cats. Aunt Bertha talks a lot and tells stories. She’s a pleasant woman. Charlie notices Bertha and Gus hold hands on the porch, something her own parents never did.

Charlie makes at least one wish a day. She wishes on stars and falling acorns and certain types of birds. She cuts off the tip of a piece of pie to eat last, believing it is good luck. Especially now with her family torn apart, Charlie will do whatever she can to wish them back together.

On Charlie’s first day of school, she meets a boy with a limp named Howard Odom. The teacher tells him to be her Backpack Buddy, a job Howard takes seriously. He sits next to Charlie on the bus and talks to her when she wants to be left alone. He says when she feels angry she should say the word pineapple to remind herself to calm down.

After Charlie gets in trouble for kicking a classmate and yelling at Bertha, she pours out her troubles to Howard. He listens and urges her to apologize to her aunt. She expects Bertha to criticize, but Bertha accepts her apology and calls her a blessing.

Charlie spots a stray dog and wants to adopt him. She spends hours with her aunt, uncle and Howard, trying to capture the dog. When she finally does, she names him Wishbone. He becomes her constant companion.

Charlie is angry with Jackie, who seems to have the perfect life. She’s excited when Jackie comes to visit, until the bubbly new Jackie (as she calls herself) becomes the center of attention. Jackie says Charlie has a good life in Colby, but Charlie feels bitter and wishes even harder for her family to reunite.

Despite her growing affection for Bertha, Gus and Howard, Charlie finds herself saying hurtful things. She gets in fights with other kids, too. She’s always amazed by Howard’s and Bertha’s willingness to forgive and continue loving her. Bertha reminds her that people shouldn’t be judged for their mistakes, but by what they do to make them right.

Bertha, normally cheerful in the worst situations, speaks angrily to Charlie’s mother on the phone. Bertha finally admits that Charlie’s mom once abandoned Charlie, Jackie and their dad, and came to Colby. Bertha told her to go take care of her family. The two have rarely spoken since. A social worker visits Bertha’s house and suggests Charlie’s mother may be ready to take back her child.

When the idea of leaving Colby could be a reality, Charlie becomes afraid. She realizes she’s not ready to give up her new family, friends and Wishbone. Mom calls Charlie on the phone for the first time since Charlie left Raleigh and talks only about herself. She hangs up when Charlie mentions something about Dad.

Charlie’s mom later calls Bertha and indicates she’s leaving town with someone. She will not be able to take Charlie after all. Bertha is angry with her sister, but she’s glad Charlie will get to stay with her. Charlie is happy as well.

When she goes to tell Howard, he says he already knew she’d be staying because it was what he wished for. That night, Charlie sits on the porch with her aunt and uncle. Bertha points out the first star and urges everyone to make a wish. Charlie realizes her wish, for a real family, has finally come true.

Christian Beliefs

Charlie’s dad never wanted any part of religion, with its do-gooders and Bible-thumpers. Her mom took them to church for a while, then stopped. Gus and Bertha, as well as Howard and his family, are members of the Rocky Creek Baptist Church.

Howard frequently wins Bible Bucks in Sunday school for his knowledge of Bible trivia. Charlie initially has a hard time coming up with any blessings to write down on her construction-paper flowers for the Garden of Blessings in the fellowship hall. She finds more and more blessings as the story goes on.

She likes the way Howard’s family holds hands and prays at dinner, and she mentions seeing Howard’s father belting out “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” in church. Charlie and Howard spend a week at vacation Bible school in the summer.

Other Belief Systems

Charlie is a firm believer in making wishes, and she does it at least once a day in some superstitious manner.

Authority Roles

Bertha and Gus immediately absorb Charlie into their family. They give her a nickname and try to provide everything she needs, including affirmation and love. They also demonstrate love for one another, which impacts Charlie.

Howard’s parents pray and show kindness to Charlie. His mom, in particular, is visibly loving toward her sons and making Charlie feel at home. Charlie’s incarcerated father and distracted mother are mainly indifferent to her life in Colby. When they do communicate, they talk about themselves.


The words heck and dang appear a few times. Charlie gets in several fights, but they are not depicted in graphic detail.



Discussion Topics

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 12


Barbara O’Connor






Record Label



Farrar Straus Giroux


On Video

Year Published



American Bookseller’s Association Best Books, 2016; North Carolina Children’s Book Award, 2018 and others


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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