Retro Review: Well Wished by Franny Billingsley
Well Wished by Franny Billingsley. Atheneum, 1997 (0-689-81210-8) $16.00; 2000 (978-0689832550) $9.95 pb
The village of Bishop Mayne isn’t quite like other places; it is blessed, or cursed, with a Wishing Well which actually does grant wishes. But the Well works by very specific rules, which are intoned by its Guardian: “One wish each lifetime. One cycle of the moon to repent and call it back. And for that cycle of the moon your lips are locked in this: To no one may you speak of your wish.” And as Nuria’s grandfather, The Avy, often tells her, wishing is dangerous: “The Well will make a wish go wrong if it can.”
Nuria has often promised to stay away from the well, but when she makes friends with Catty Winter, who can’t walk, she is tempted to help her. And when her new friendship begins to stir her insecure fears and jealousies, Nuria makes an impulsive wish that could change her life forever—unless she can find a way to take it back.
With its town-with-a-secret setting made even more disorienting through the use of unfamiliar names and ambiguous clues about time and place, Well Wished has an eerie, otherworldly atmosphere that adds an enjoyably mysterious tension to the story. The magical universe is wickedly twisted, in a way reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones’ books—as is the way magic happenings are entwined with strong, believable emotions. But Billingsley gives Well Wished its own style, a fresh, crisp, wintry beauty of thought and phrase that never seems overdone. The emotions, particularly Nuria’s jealous love for the Avy, are subtly but surely drawn, making the combination of magic and realism touching and effective. (8 & up)
© 2011 Wendy E. Betts
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