I love trees. I especially love trees in the winter time. The contrast between the branches and the blue sky never fails to get my attention; in fact, it’s one of my favorite natural vistas. I have taken countless photographs of this particular scene–in fact, I took some just today.
Wishtree, then, can’t help but be a good one for me. This story is written entirely from the point of view of an oak tree named Red. Red is a special tree–a wish tree, a place for people to come and leave their wishes each year. Because Red is pretty old, he has seen a lot of things happen in his neighborhood. However, something that happens during this story prompts Red to finally break the cardinal rule of trees. Red is the victim of vandalism aimed at one of the families that lives in the shade of his branches. This family is isolated and alone because they are different: immigrants perhaps, with cultural (religious?) markers that set them apart from their neighbors. The girl, Samar, is lonely, so her wish is for one thing: a friend. This, paired with the vandalism, causes Red to act–he actually talks to Samar and the neighbor boy, and the results of this have the neighborhood reaching back into history to rediscover its . . . roots.
Red’s voice is endearing and enjoyable, even humorous:
Trees have a rather complicated relationship with people, after all. One minute you’re hugging us. The next minute you’re turning us into tables and tongue depressors. (2)
Red is also home to a menagerie, and they add a touch of humor to the story. I could never quite keep all the animals straight, but Applegate gave them names that should make that easy. For example, the skunks are all named for things that smell good. All of these things help to lighten the subject matter a little bit.
This book is really a simple book and a quick read. In fact, sometimes I think the day of long, complicated juvenile fiction is over, and this book is a perfect example of why I think that. The story doesn’t suffer for its simplicity, though I think sometimes that these stories oversimplify the problems they’re concerned with, especially ones that are very complex in the real world we live in. Wishtree just happens to be about discrimination and hatred toward minorities, which is obviously a hot topic now. I do think it’s worth writing about, and I think Katherine Applegate has done a beautiful job of sending out a message of love and acceptance for all people. However, it feels a bit “flavor of the month” for me. I don’t mind my books to have a message, but I like for the message to be secondary to the story. This one feels almost like a parable. It’s a well-told parable, but a parable-like nevertheless. This one is worth the slight time-expenditure it takes to read it. (Macmillan, 2017)