WISH YOU WELL
Warner Books, September 2001
Reviewed by Sissy Jacobson
That day in 1940 had been special. Jack Cardinal, critically acclaimed author, borrowed a 1936 Lincoln Zephyr to take his wife Amanda, and his children on a picnic. Twelve-year-old Louisa Mae (Lou), a daddy's girl and wannabe writer like her father, and seven-year-old, shy Oz, whose real name is Oscar, had a rare, wonderful time with their father. That time was short-lived. On the way home to New York City, Jack lost control of the car and was killed. Amanda was severely injured and in a coma.
Lou and Oz were sent by train to live with their great-grandmother, Louisa Mae Cardinal, in the mountains of Virginia. A nurse accompanied their mother but Louisa Mae fired her on sight. She was determined to care for Amanda. The adjustment was difficult for the children, but they soon settled in to the routine of life without modern amenities such as electricity, running water, or telephones. Instead, they learned to grow their food, tend the animals, milk the cows, and "make do". The children attended school in a one-room schoolhouse where one teacher taught all grades. Poverty reigned supreme on those mountains.
Lou and Oz's first friend on the mountain was Jimmy Skinner. Jimmy came and went at will, always barefoot and poorly dressed. They later learned that "Diamond," as Jimmy was called, was alone in the world. His mother had died when he was very young, and his father had been killed two years before in a coal mine accident.
WISH YOU WELL is the coming of age story of Lou Cardinal and her brother Oz. It focuses on their routine of daily chores, how they each handle their mother's illness, and their great-grandmother's teachings of the basics of survival and tolerance of others. It tells what happens when greed tries to steal the children's home and causes an innocent one to lose his life. It is also a story of sorrow and grief, and recovery. There are the happy times when the children make their own entertainment, and find adventure as they discover secrets of the mountain.
This is the first book I've read by David Baldacci, and I understand it is a departure from his usual writings. He says that he became very interested in his family's past, and that interest spurred him to write WISH YOU WELL. It is set in an area that he is very familiar with, though the place names and people are fictitious.
I enjoyed WISH YOU WELL. The writing is smooth and the tale very well told. The time period is depression era; the setting is rural Virginia. Poverty and greed live side by side, costing the lives and well being of many. I can readily recommend this book to all. It is G rated so sixth graders and up can safely read it.