Ever since the age of eight, Bella Grandelli has been wishing. She wishes for a diet that will finally get rid of her few extra pounds, she wishes for a really cool career, and she wishes for the perfect guy to share her life. Most of all, though, Bella wishes she could help her twin brother Bobby.
For as long as she can remember, Bella has been aware that Bobby is different. He talks like Yosemite Sam (when he's happy) or Bugs Bunny (when he's not). He hates being touched, and he's prone to sudden bursts of outrageous behavior at the most embarrassing moments. As a child, Bella is sure that Bobby's autism is her fault --- she was in such a hurry to be born that she pushed past her brother and made him permanently slow. As a young adult, Bella has a more complex understanding of Bobby's condition, but no less guilt. Haunted by a "gray cloud" of depression every time she resents Bobby, Bella spends her life trying to be the perfect child, to regain some of the attention that her parents spend on her more demanding brother.
Is it any wonder that Bella has a hard time finding a mate, when she can't even live up to her own high ideals? WISH covers three decades in Bella's life, and it can sometimes seem like a catalog of failed relationships, as Bella enters into a series of love affairs, none of which can possibly work out. Only when Bella finally accepts her brother --- and herself --- can she discover what true love really is.
Bella's three-decade odyssey will be like a walk down memory lane for many readers; pop culture references are sprinkled throughout the story and will be fodder for nostalgia for readers in Bella's own demographic (even if there are a couple of anachronisms). The author, like her main character, is a former celebrity journalist, so cameos by famous people are also scattered throughout the novel. Mel Gibson, Oprah, and Cher all offer their own brands of wisdom to Bella.
Some readers may grow tired of Bella's slow climb to self-actualization, aided heavily by her therapist. Others, though, will relish Bella's introspection, much of which will spark readers' own self-reflection and start discussions. Indeed, WISH's thoughtfulness makes it a natural for book discussion groups; the author interview and discussion questions at the book's end make for a nice jumping-off point.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 24, 2011