Monday, July 8, 2013

Family Tree Book 1: Better to Wish by Ann M. Martin

 In 2022, Abby Nicols is 100 years old. and as she says in the Prologue, when you are as old as she is, you have the pleasure of looking over your life and revisiting different days.  And that is exactly what Abby does, being in August 1930 when she is eight years old and ending in February 1945, when she is 22 years old.

In between, the reader gets to know quiet intelligent Abby, her younger impetuous, more out spoken sister Rose, her depressed, weak willed Mama, Nel, still grieving for the two babies that didn't survive rather than focusing on her two living daughters, and her controlling, bigoted Pop, Luther, a carpenter.

As the story begins, the depression has already begun to affect people's lives.  Money is scarce and work even scarcer, though Pop goes to work every day.  Eventually, as city people begin to buy houses in the area to use as summer homes, Pop's business grows and soon there is money enough, but there is also sadness and heartbreak enough.

Mama has another baby, a boy named Fred, but he has severe undefined developmental issues. Fred proves to be almost an unbearable embarrassment to Pop that one day he has him institutionalized behind the family's back.  Mama's depression gets worse and not even the birth of a healthy little girl named Adele helps her.

Though Rose is the sassy sister, the one you might think is or will be the rebel in the family, it is actually quiet Abby who continues to be friends with Orrin despite her father's demand that she have nothing to do with him because Pop had decided his parent are lazy French Canadian, Catholics who refuse to work. And Orrin isn't the only friend who would not meet her Pop's approval.

Better to Wish is very much like Abby: it quietly goes along revealing meaningful episodes in her life that ultimately bring Abby to the decisions she makes in 1945.  Along the way, Abby experiences her share of happiness and unhappiness, fulfilment and disappointment, kindness and cruelty, life and death.

Better to Wish is a nice historical fiction novel, written in the same vein as the American Girl books, but for a slightly older reader and with a much darker side.  In the American Girl books, times may be hard, but the main character's family isn't.  They are loving, kind and supportive.  Here, times are hard and life at home is often cold, disagreeable and unsympathetic.  And yet, I found myself so totally drawn into this compelling, coming of age story.

The novel is written episodically, with about two or three intense entries per year, done to resemble the reminiscences of the 100 year old Abby.  These skillfully presented kaleidoscopic bits of Abby's life come together to give the reader a clear picture and understand of growing up in the clutches of the depression.

Better to Wish is the first book in a series of four about one girl in succeeding generations within a family.  As author Ann M. Martin explained in Time for Kids "the books are about the highs and lows that each girl faces as she grows up during a different period of history."  And if the name Ann M. Martin sounds familiar, you probably remember her from her other series called The Baby-Sitters Club.

The next book, The Long Way Home, will be about Abby's daughter Dana and is due out in November 2013.  And I can't wait to read it.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was obtained from the publisher

You can find an excellent Teaching and Discussion Guide which also includes Common Core Connections HERE

Be sure to visit the Family Tree webpage where you can read an excerpt of Better to Wish,  create your own family tree and take a quiz to find out which time period matches your personality - mine was The Roaring 20s.


  1. Great concept for a books series....Looking forward to all of them.

    1. I also found it an interesting concept. I received a copy of the 2nd book at BEA and can't wait to read it and see how it goes.

  2. I love the idea of looking back on a long and interesting life but I wonder if kids will like it.

    1. You aren't the only one who expresses a concern about an older person looking back, but that is only in the prologue there rest of the book is about Abby as a young girl. The memoir doesn't go back and forth in time. Hopefully, it will appeal to kids.

  3. Hello Alex, just catching up after my hols. This series sounds like something I would like to read. Poor Fred how sad to be thought of as nothing but an embarrassment.

  4. Welcome back, Barbara, I hope your hols were wonderful and relaxing and fun. This is an interesting series and I agree poor Fred, but being an embarrassment to his dad isn't the worst of it, I'm afraid.


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