cover image Well Wished

Well Wished

Franny Billingsley. Atheneum Books, $16.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81210-1

The old saying ""Be careful of what you wish for"" gets a bizarre twist in this first novel about a town where all the children have vanished. Nuria, new in town, begs her grandfather to use his one wish at the Wishing Well to bring the children back, but when he does, only one child shows up. Wheelchair-bound Catty is not exactly the kind of friend Nuria was wishing for--she's selfish and duplicitous. And when Nuria asks the Wishing Well, ""I wish Catty had a body just like mine,"" the sneaky well simply switches the girls' bodies, leading Nuria to desperate measures to get someone to recognize her. Despite the interesting premise, Billingsley is not entirely successful in anchoring a logical fantasy world or in creating wholly compelling characters. Readers never know much about Nuria's grandfather, who appears to play a prominent role in the community, or why any of the residents bother to stay in such a cruel and arbitrary village. Nor does the author supply much of a picture of what kind of world this is, modern or medieval, ageless or mortal, wildly magical or commonplace. The language falls into stilted storybook cadence, neither contemporary nor ancient: ""Oh, it was cold out there, bitter and cold. The wind screamed about her ears and tore inside her dress as though it would flay the flesh from her bones."" There are some promising elements here, but not the passion and believability essential for good fantasy. Ages 8-12. (May)