Diane Stanley, the same Diane Stanley who wrote all those wonderful children’s biographies of everyone from Peter the Great to Saladin to Charles Dickens, has published a new children’s fantasy book, Joplin, Wishing. I can’t say I like this book as much as I do her biographies or even her other fantasy novels that I have read, Bella at Midnight and The Cup and the Crown, but Joplin, Wishing is a decent enough story.
Joplin, named after both the singer Janis and the composer Scott, has a hard time at school after her dead and famous novelist grandfather is caricatured in the newspapers as an eccentric, wild, and crazy recluse. The bullies come out of the woodwork and make her school life unendurable. Joplin just wishes for a friend or two, one at home and one at school, and she gets her wish. The fulfilled wish, however, comes with complications; the Dutch girl from Joplin’s delftware plate who grants Joplin’s wish is really a slave to the plate and to the maker of the plate. Can Joplin find a way to set her free?
The book is very anti-journalism, as it is currently practiced. The reporters in this story are villains, making up “fake news” and hounding Joplin and her family to get a thread of something to hang the story on. It’s also an anti-bullying story, which is all the rage these days, but it doesn’t present any clear solutions to the bullying problem. The bullies in the story are forced to apologize for their behavior, but the apologies are mostly as fake as the news, and Joplin just has to endure and hope that the bullying behavior will get old and go away. Finally, the book is anti-slavery, and a little on the dark side in that regard, since Joplin’s friend from the plate was groomed by the magician and artisan who made the plate to be his personal slave and wish-granter in the same way that a child molester would groom a victim. That part of the story is downright creepy.
Most of the novel, however, deals with how to manage to get the girl from the plate back to her own time and place, how to free her. And the mechanisms and plans for doing that are interesting. It’s the first time I’ve seen a legal contract used as a plot device to solve the magical problem of the novel.
Joplin, Wishing is okay, but it could have been better with a little less darkness and cruelty, and a little more whimsicality. I like my novels, even middle grade fiction, to have some serious, thoughtful themes and ideas, but a little humor and whimsy go a long way toward making those serious ideas palatable.
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This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.