If you savor the life-changing pull of a good book, The Wishing Game, the first novel from Meg Shaffer, the pen name of bestselling romance author Tiffany Reisz, is an ideal summer read. It has emotional plot twists, heartbroken but resilient characters and a feel-good ending that may not be what you had expected.
Lucy Hart was rescued by a book when she was 8 years old: The House on Clock Island by Jack Masterson. It was filled with all the things one might expect of the best escapist literature for children—mystery, adventure and just the right amount of danger. To Lucy, however, Jack’s story felt personal. His characters provided her with the love and reassurance that she had never received from her own family.
The spell deepened with each new Clock Island book, until, at the age of 13, Lucy decided to run away to the author’s private island home in Maine and be his sidekick. Against all odds, she made it to the remote location easily and met Jack, who was surprised but no less kind. She also met Hugo, the handsome 20-something British artist who illustrated the Clock Island covers. If there ever were a place where Lucy felt like she belonged, this was it. Alas, the cops were summoned (rightly so) to take her back home.
Years later, 26-year-old Lucy is working as a teacher’s aide at an elementary school in California. She forms a close bond with a foster child named Christopher, whom she wishes to adopt, even though she has no money, car or security. What she does have are Clock Island books, which she reads to Christopher after school.
Unexpectedly, Jack announces that he will publish a new Clock Island book, something he hasn’t done in over a decade. Best of all, he has invited four of his biggest fans to compete in a mystery game, and the winner will receive a copy of the manuscript. No surprise, Lucy is one of the four. On the island, she becomes reacquainted with Jack (who is much older but no less energetic and kind) and Hugo (who is even dreamier than before). She also meets her fierce competition, all of whom also found comfort in Jack’s books when they were kids. As the games begin, readers begin to see the desperation, regrets and broken dreams that unite these irrepressible characters.
In this tender spin on Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Shaffer balances the darkness of emotional backstories with plenty of hopefulness, humor, plot twists and just a bit of romance. As Jack Masterson would say, wishes do come true if you are brave enough to believe in them.