A magic well provides hope to people living in a depressed Midwestern town in this debut.
On his deathbed, Ernest Wilmette’s grandfather makes 11-year-old Ernest promise to clean out his attic. The Wilmettes are the richest family in the struggling town of Cliffs Donnelly, Ohio, owners of the local tool-and-die factory. In the attic, he’s attracted to an odd collection of nearly perfect toys. What is he supposed to do? The next day, after standing up to a bully in middle school, he ends up—it’s a long story—stumbling across Thompkins Well, which local folklore says can grant wishes. But Ernest is in a cave at the bottom of the well, and he overhears his Indian-American classmate, newcomer Winston, make a wish—and with the help of one of the items from the attic, the wish comes true. As do many more wishes, from a wide cast of characters (most as white as the Wilmettes, although a favorite teacher is described as indeterminately biracial). The story is told through a very large number of point-of view characters, some of whom play only minor roles, fitting together as neatly as a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. The sentence-level writing is smooth, and some of the insights are lovely, but the structure is so complicated that it’s going to be a hard slog for many.
This is the sort of book that adults like for children far more than children like for children. (Fiction. 8-12)