I have had this sitting on my TBR pile for ages, and given how much I adore Hardinge it doesn’t make sense it took me so long to pick it up. Oh well, water under the bridge… heh… Anyway, I went in expecting a rollicking adventure like Fly by Night. After all, how bad could it be to take coins from a wishing well, right? And even if there is a spirit in there who doesn’t like being stolen from, how bad can it be? And if she decides that you need to help her in fulfilling some of the wishes, that can’t go badly, can it? Especially if she gives you some shiny powers to aid you in that effort?
Yeah. This book was way darker than I had expected. On reflection Mosca Mye’s adventures weren’t all sunshine and skittles either, but I don’t think I ever actually feared for her life, or that Saracen the goose would end up in a pie (much as he might have deserved it). Nor did Mosca ever end up with eyes growing on her knuckles.
Josh, Ryan and Chelle sneak off to a village they’re not meant to visit, and they miss the last bus their tickets will get them home on. To get more money for tickets, Josh goes down a wishing well. Over the next couple of days, all three children discover that weird things are happening: Ryan is growing weird itchy wart-things on his knuckles, Chelle can’t stop herself from randomly spouting what seems like nonsense, and Josh is making light bulbs blow and phones go staticky. Naturally, with some experimentation and a weird dream experience for Ryan, they discover this is connected to their theft from the well and they have now been press-ganged into granting wishes, with powers to help. Fun, eh?
Of course, we all know that wishes are – as Ryan describes it – a bit like conkers. There’s the outside bit that you can see, but then there’s the inside bit – the meaty bit – that’s often darker, and spikier, and not so speak-out-loud. But the spirit in the well knows that bit, too.
Things get out of control. Of course. There’s adventure – some exhilarating and some terrifying – and some occasions of just sheer terror for Ryan, our point of view character, in particular. As with the best stories there’s more than one level of problems to be dealt with, and I’ve rarely read a YA/kids’ book where parental arguments are shown quite so realistically, along with the child’s reaction. Also the fact that your parents aren’t necessarily going to get along with your friends’ parents, although that was mostly just funny. Adolescent friendship and its highs, lows, difficulties, competition, and hierarchy is treated very tenderly: Hardinge pulls no punches but does allow her characters to develop over just a few days in reaction to their circumstances. I’m quite sure most people will recognise aspects of Ryan, Chelle and Josh’s little clique, and not necessarily with rosy memories either.
As for other characters… there’s also a mean old lady who was, on reflection, actually treated rather poorly – she was certainly nasty but probably didn’t deserve quite the ending she got – and a nice young lady whose agoraphobia wasn’t explored in great detail but was treated with sympathy. There are five parents between the three children, which is rather a change from your classic YA where the parents are got rid of or otherwise not involved in the story; Ryan’s parents are very present in much of the story, and they get to be appropriately complex. And the spirit in the well – I won’t say much because I don’t want to spoil it, but I was really impressed with the context Hardinge develops, and especially with the ultimate resolution.
Look, I read this in an afternoon. It’s utterly absorbing and gloriously written. Just read it already. You can buy it from Fishpond.
(Apparently it was released as Well Witched in America. I do not know why.)