book thoughts: Well Witched by Frances Hardinge

Think about all the times you’ve made a wish; tossing a coin into a fountain, blowing away an eyelash, or blowing out birthday candles.  Were they simple wishes – I want a toy! – or were there layers to these wishes – wishing for the toy meant your friends would find you more attractive?  What if all of those wishes, layers and all, had to be granted?  And what if YOU were in charge of granting them?

Well Witched by Francis Hardinge opens with three friends are out in a part of town their parents have forbiddenthem to visit when they realize they don’t have enough change to payfor the bus ride home.  Desperate to find some coins, the teens stumbleupon a well.  They grab a handful and use them to pay for the ridehome.  Little do they know those coins do not belong to them, and thespirit of the well wants them back.  She gives each of the teens a special ability – Ryan communicates with her via magical eyes that have grown on his fingers; Shell can speak the thoughts of the wisher; and Josh has the power to effect electricity.  At first, it seems like it will be easy – how many coins could they have taken?  How hard could it be to fullfill a wish?  But they soon discover that there is no such thing as a simple wish and that not everyone wishes for nice things. 

I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and I think I might have enjoyed it more if I had read the book.  It’s a bit too long, and one of the downsides of audio is that you can’t skim a page if you’re not interested in the current content. So I found myself checking the track numbers on the discs, wondering how much was left of the story. 

And there is a lot of story.  It feels like Hardinge might have had two story ideas in her head but tried to get them both into the same book.  She takes great care in creating a family life for Ryan and his friends but the story of the parents feels a bit too complicated and it weighs down the narrative, especially since we already have the story of an angry well witch trying to manipulate the three teens as they struggle to “grant” wishes.

The book has some creepy images, so I would suggest this book for older children, maybe 5th grade and up.  The story was original and interesting, but in the end the overwelming amount of random plotlines makes it drag, so I would only give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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