The nice thing about library books is that one can write about them late in the day on a Saturday in summer (a time when few readers are out and about) without any of the compunctions that one might feel when writing about a book received for review at such a time.
So here are my thoughts on Well Wished, by Franny Billingsley (Atheneum, 1997).
"The trees stood black and sleek as skeletons, their crisp edges blurred to velvet by the failing light. But there was nothing blurred about the Wishing Well, which rose from the pale winter grass in a massive sweep of granite. Agnes, the Well's Guardian, was a mere shadow beside it, knitting as she rocked in the great stone chair, rocking and knitting just as each Guardian had done for as long as anyone could remember."
Eleven year-old Nuria knows to distrust the magic of the well--the wishes it grants (one per customer) tend to be horribly twisted. On such wish made all the children of the village vanish, leaving only Nuria--living up the hill from the village, she was outside that particular magic. For Nuria's sake her grandfather wishes, giving the well carefully chosen words that he hopes will undo that spell.
The well, however, twists that wish too. One child does come back--a girl named Catty Winter, who cannot walk. Though Catty and Nuria enjoy each other's company, it's not an entirely easy relationship (more a friendship based on the fact that there is no one else to be friends with). Catty wants Nuria to wish that she could walk again, and Nuria, scared by years of neglect before she came to her grandfather, can't stand the thought of sharing with Catty the things she holds dear.
Yet Nuria agrees to make the wish for Catty...and it does indeed go wrong.
Well Wished is a very fairy tale-ish book, in the sense that, as is the case with so many fairy tales, a rather generous suspension of disbelief is called for. The children of the village all vanished, yet no one, until Nuria's grandfather, seems to have made any attempt to get them back! Surely they hadn't all used up their wishes...I was very distracted by this for a considerable time. Ana over at the Book Smugglers had a similar feeling-- she had a "niggling thought at the back of [her] mind that it made no sense that the entire town basically lived hostage to this Well. WHY?" Truly it is odd.
And then on top of that I wasn't all sure I liked Nuria--she is more than somewhat self-centered, and I saw nothing particularly appealing in Catty.
But then, after a somewhat slow start while I was unable to suspend my own disbelief, the magic of Billingsley's lovely writing soothed my troubled spirit, and once Nuria wished, things got tremendously interesting. I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I was going to....and I found it very thought-provoking and memorable...and I think I might well read it again at some point...but I am pretty sure I personally would have liked it more if I'd liked Nuria and Catty better, and believed in their friendship more.
This was a nice book to read on a hot summers day--it is a wintery book, and not just because it's set during the Christmas season. There is ice skating and snowfall, but more evocatively, the well itself is slowly and sinisterly freezing, more so than is its usual wont in winter. And the tale of the Snow Queen--Kai with the ice shard in his eye and Gerda who saves him--is present both as a play within the story and in the story of the girls themselves, although not so much as to make it a strict retelling. Catty is in much the same position as Kai, changed by evil magic; and Nuria gets the Gerda-esque role, being the brave one who saves the day (although her own attempt to plunge through the snowdrifts to set things right is neither as selfless nor as effective as Gerda's journey).