Eleven-year-old Joplin is lonely. Her longtime best friend, Abby, has abandoned her to hang out with the cool girls. And since the death of her grandfather, a famous and eccentric writer, hit the papers, kids at school have been teasing Joplin relentlessly about his strange ways.
Joplin never even met her grandfather, who was estranged from the family, but she has a broken platter that once belonged to him. Captivated by the fragmented picture of a girl with geese, she gets the platter repaired, with the help of her Aunt Jen, and hangs it up. And one night, she wishes that the little girl on the platter could be her friend. But she never expects what happens next: the appearance of the girl, as a real flesh-and-blood human being, in her own garden.
“Joplin, Wishing,” by Diane Stanley, is a highly imaginative story for middle-schoolers, with plenty of original twists and turns. Joplin is a captivating young heroine, with a big heart, a keen intelligence, and a kind spirit. Confronted with Sofie, a girl who is compelled by a powerful enchantment to grant wishes to whoever owns the platter, Joplin’s first thoughts are not about what she can get for herself, but how she can help set Sofie free. Also, she goes out of her way to show forgiveness to Abby, even after Abby has hurt and betrayed her.
Most of the people in Joplin’s life demonstrate the same deep and refreshing goodness, which is fortunate, because Joplin has to enlist them to help out when freeing Sofie from her evil enchanter becomes far too big a project for her to handle on her own. There is, on the whole, a sort of old-fashioned innocence about “Joplin, Wishing” that’s not always easy to find anymore, even in books for this age group. (The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall is probably the best contemporary comparison I can think of.)
Joplin and her new school friend, Barrett, are modern kids with modern circumstances and problems; for instance, both Joplin’s parents and her grandparents are divorced. But they read almost as kids from a different era — perhaps because of their association with Sofie, a girl from a long-ago century, or perhaps because Stanley originally considered setting their story in the 1940s, or perhaps just because Stanley is really good at creating likable, three-dimensional young heroes. Barrett’s character, while a little underdeveloped, is still mature, intelligent, and kind, very much like Joplin’s. Though Joplin admits that she can maybe see herself with Barrett one day, she’s adamant that at 11 years old, she’s not yet ready for a boyfriend!
Joplin’s relationship with her mother is a troubled one at first, as her mother is irritated and tired from dealing with pestering reporters, and mired in a grief that Joplin can’t fully understand. But Joplin’s own dedication to helping Sofie lead to results even better than she could have imagined, when she inadvertently ends up helping to solve an old family mystery that had troubled her mother since childhood.
Except for one use of “oh my God” and two uses of “hell,” there’s no offensive language here, and no other offensive content at all. “Joplin, Wishing” is a sweet and richly rewarding story that kids will enjoy and their parents can feel good about.
Image copyright HarperCollins. Review copy obtained from the reviewer’s local library.