When your entire life has been one long search for that mysterious "something" that will finally make you happy and complete, what you want changes faster than the fashions in Vogue. But that doesn't mean you stop wishing, does it? This is Bella Grandelli's heartbreaking, hilarious, and seemingly hopeless quest-from her days as a pudgy, insecure eight-year-old in the seventies, to a Madonna-worshipping Notre Dame co-ed in the eighties, where she tries on boyfriends as if they're leg-warmers, to a martini-sipping entertainment journalist in the nineties. The only constant through her love-life chaos is her twin brother, Bobby, whose mysterious illness has been a source of both triumph and tragedy-no matter how hard Bella tries to wish him well. But it's only when her family faces a devastating crisis that she finally realizes the painful truth about herself and her life. And no one is more surprised than Bella herself when that journey leads her to the only person in the world who holds the key to her heart.
Bella is searching for that special little something that will finally make her feel happy and complete... that one thing that so many of us feel like we can't quite name but we just know is out there waiting for us. Bella's trouble is that her definition of happy seems to keep changing. Especially when she considers how her autistic twin brother Bobby plays into that idea. Bobby, most days anyway, has a "joy in the little things" way about him. He has a sunny disposition, a love of patterns, and a unique way of speaking, relying almost entirely on dialogue from tv shows he watches -- Star Trek / Yosemite Sam / Batman when he's happy, Bugs Bunny quotes means bad news.
Bobby's upbeat nature often puts Bella's troubles into perspective, even when she'd prefer to, you know, kinda just enjoy wallowing in those indulgent moments of self-pity. She's also always felt a sense of responsibility to Bobby, sometimes more of a parent to him than their actual parents, teaching him things like how to do acceptable eye contact (2 seconds = too short, 5 seconds = too long). All of this factors into how she defines happy, what she wants for herself, what goals she thinks she can accomplish guilt-free. She also contemplates what she needs for her own soul's happiness, regardless of what the world might say it requires of her.
Spanning from an introduction to 8 year old Bella in the 1970s to Bella as a grown female journalist in the 1990s, the format of Wish is set up in a way similar to that of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary (author Melina Bellows even notes the similarity in her author interview at the back of this book) . At each chapter's beginning, the reader is given a rundown of what year it is, Bella's age that year, her favorite song and celebrity idol of the moment, and a noting of her best pair of shoes and prized possession for that year. The plot itself though reminded me a bit of a grown up version of Rules by Cynthia Lord.
When Wish was first released back in 2005, I remember seeing it here and there on a few recommended reading lists in magazines I would casually peruse. Since then, I've heard a fair share of less than stellar reviews about it, so it quietly got pushed further and further down on my own mental "to get to one day" reading list. So glad I decided to finally take it home after finding it in a local used bookstore recently! I went into it hesitantly (those reviews in the back of my mind) but came out completely moved by this little story. I saw SO many parallels to my own life in Bella's journey it floored me.
Some of those neggy reviews mentioned how cliche it all is and how predictable the romances play out but real life does play out that way too sometimes. Sometimes it IS the most obvious answer once you get out of your own way! But it wasn't even the romances that resonated with me (though I was very much entertained seeing the various situations Bella gets herself into!). For me, it was Bella's inner monologues and overall thought processes that bonded me to her, faulty though they may be sometimes! I loved watching her go through the process of figuring out the reasoning behind ideas like taking care of yourself so you can be better for others, or as Bella's therapist puts it at one point, "Inside every rescuer there is a victim." Bella realizes she doesn't really know how to define herself outside of various levels of caretaker roles within her own family. That's something I struggle with myself to this day so I was definitely rooting for her on her journey and cringing when I knew how badly some of her choices would end up (having been there myself).
If you've ever felt overwhelmed with being "the responsible one" in your family (who is then maybe unfairly and harshly judged when you just try to freakin' live a little) then Bella's story may be for you. Hers is a reminder that we're ALL here just trying to figure it all out the best we can and yes, every one of us is going to get the proverbial pie in the face now and then, but we push through and keep going anyway, don't we? :-) I'd also recommend this for anyone gearing up for Autism Awareness Month in April!