“Wishful Thinking” by Alexandra Bullen, Point, Scholastic Inc., January 2011. 242 pp. $17.99.
It begins — “The morning that Hazel Snow turned eighteen began like any other morning. Which is to say, it sucked” — and for the next 241 pages it maintains the kind of provocative narrative, plot development, and compelling character studies (despite the fact that there are no bad guys or villains) that most likely will captivate its targeted readers.
“Wishful Thinking,” Alexandra Bullen’s second young adult novel, builds on the premise of her first, “Wish,” published last year: a teenage girl on a personal quest, and three magical dresses, each one able to fulfill a wish.
This time it is the story of the beleaguered Hazel, who — after her adoptive mother dies — is shuffled around to various foster homes before winding up living with her dysfunctional adoptive father in California, feeling adrift and yearning to discover who she really is.
“Her entire relationship with her adoptive mother was a tapestry of holes, woven out of foggy memories…” Ms. Bullen writes.
The novel picks up when Hazel discovers the name of her birth mother and wishes she could have known her. With the magical intervention of the seamstress Posie and her grant-a-wish dresses, Hazel suddenly finds herself transported back in time 18 years. She is on the ferry coming to Martha’s Vineyard where she befriends her pregnant (with her) biological mother and her young father.
Two more wishes and several surprising twists and turns later, and Hazel is on her way to discovering her first romance, her roots, and her true self.
Ms. Bullen, 29, is a Boston native who spent summers on the Vineyard in the family’s Katama home. The daughter of attorney Maria Krokidas, a founder of the Boston firm Krokidas & Bluestein, and Bruce Bullen, Chief Operating Officer of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, she studied dramatic writing in New York University’s master of fine arts program. Now a year-round Katama resident, her sense of the Island is acute.
When Hazel and her friend Jaime go off-Island to Falmouth, Ms. Bullen writes: “But even through Hazel had only spent a few days on the island, she could already feel the difference. It was a pace thing, maybe. Or just the buried knowledge that where she stood now was connected to the rest of the country, as opposed to the island, where it sort of always felt like floating.”
Rather than just being a backdrop, the Vineyard is integrated into the story, threaded into events, and woven into the details that make the characters dimensional. They ride the Flying Horses, gulp lobster rolls, attend Illumination Night, reference the Wampanoags, and hold their parties on Chilmark beaches.
In every instance, Ms. Bullen, who refers to this novel as being about second chances that lead to self-discovery, has a knack of choosing telling gestures and salient particulars and describing them in the assured and animated way that conveys an insight to her characters, and sense of the nature and impact of Island life.
The description of Hazel swallowing her first oyster is enough to give readers a vicarious experience. In her rendering of the August night in the Campgrounds, Ms. Bullen composes an old fashioned love song to the Island: “In the middle of the park, a swing band was playing on the wooden stage of the gazebo, and a small crowd gathered to dance barefoot on the lawn. The sun was just beginning to set and little kids waving glow sticks ran over rumpled blankets and hopped between their parents’ legs. Adults sipped wine from plastic cups and toasted another summer nearly gone by.”
But first and foremost, “Wishful Thinking” is a smart, well-crafted young adult novel that tells a feel-good story of optimism, individual worth, and — despite the element of magic — realistic possibilities. It is an easy read. Ms. Bullen’s appealing characters are brought to life with nuance and plausible relatability, and she moves the plot along with just the right rhythm of unexpected events and moments to keep the reader engrossed.
She is already working on a series of mystery and suspense novels, and we can only expect impressive results from this accomplished author.