The front flyleaf to the book includes a series of extracts from the first chapter, in which Debbie Pelbry makes a wish:
The 337-page book is filled with accounts of good things happening to her, some of which happen outside of her awareness, some of which she notices without comprehending their significance, and some of which lead to her own sense of being a better-integrated individual. Wishes come true.She wished something would happen.
Something good. To her.
Looking at the bright, fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, something like that.
Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one.
Hoping it wasn't too late, she thought the word soon.
One short interchange between mother and daughter happens when Debbie receives a letter from a boy she had met recently.
Debbie showed her [mother] the photo, thinking, this will explain everything; now she will understand. It was a school picture of a boy with chin-length blond hair, parted down the middle and tucked behind his ears. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, a T-shirt, a denim jacket.So often in books, or in movies, one character looks at another character and understands in a precise way what that person is feeling. So often in real life, one person wants to be understood, but obscures her feelings with completely unrelated words and facial expressions, while the other person is trying to remember whether she did or didn't turn off the burner under the hard-boiled eggs.Helen did sense something, an undercurrent. She thought that Debbie probably had a crush on the boy. But California was pretty far away, and she couldn't have gotten to know him very well in such a short time. Maybe they would exchange a few letters."He looks very nice," she said. "He's a cute boy.""He is nice," said Debbie.It was as close as she could come to saying, "I need to go to California. Can I?"But it wasn't very close, not close enough. Her mother had no way of knowing that this would have been a good time to tell her daughter that she had once known a boy who went away. A boy who had made a game of finding little figures of dogs, and giving them to her. They might have talked about how that felt, and what you did next. But their secrets inadvertently sidestepped each other, unaware, like blindfolded elephants crossing the tiny room.
The book recently won the John Newbery Medal for most outstanding contribution to children's literature.
The author tells the story in a very playful way, with her prose and illustrations playing off each other. In the middle of the book appears the "Japanese Chapter," in which haiku and other forms of Japanese poetry become the primary mode of communication.
The author drew on her experiences of growing up in Springdale and Cheswick to add local color to this story based in a fictionalized version of the Pittsburgh area, with events happening in towns with names such as Seldem, Arland, Birdvale, Hesmont, and New Bridge. I would recommend this book to people from any area who are trying to understand the mysterious twists and turns of life.