When wishes become action
What can be done in the face of racism and hatred? Newbery Medal-winning author Katherine Applegate deftly explores this question in her stellar new novel, Wishtree.
A 10-year-old Muslim girl named Samar and her parents move into a house in a suburban neighborhood, hoping for a new life. Samar has wary eyes and a shy smile, with “the look of someone who has seen too much.” Even so, she is quietly hopeful, tying her written wish on a large red oak wishing tree in front of her house, as people have done for decades. “I wish for a friend,” she whispers, and the tree listens.
But the next-door neighbors aren’t friendly. A teenager carves the word “LEAVE” into the tree’s trunk. Someone throws eggs at Samar’s house. A car races by whose occupants shout, “Muslims get out!” Finally, the “wishtree,” named Red, can stand silent no longer. It’s time to act.
Using an oak tree as a narrator is a huge creative risk, but Applegate carries out this feat with literary bravado, elevating her tale to an unforgettable, timeless fable in the process. Red has not only carefully watched the world for over 200 years but is also very funny. “I could write a book,” Red muses, wryly adding, “In fact, I could be a book.”
This neighborhood story has a marvelous animal and human cast, including a pair of policemen who investigate the tree vandalism and the tree’s owner, Francesca, who wants to cut the oak down. Helping Red in the quest for neighborhood peace is a menagerie of animals that find shelter in the wise old tree and whose interactions add another layer to this story about the pleasures and difficulties of living in harmony.
Wishtree is a page-turning, magical read that packs a lot into its pages. This gentle yet powerful book is suitable for all ages, from young to old, and its message remains more vital than ever.
This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.