David Baldacci,
Wish You Well
(Columbus Rose, 2000; Warner, 2001)

David Baldacci is well known for his suspenseful legal thrillers, but in Wish You Well, Baldacci tells a simple, heartwarming and affirming story about the power of love.

Louisa Mae Cardinal, known as Lou, is the 12-year-old daughter of acclaimed author Jack Cardinal and a budding writer herself. Her family also includes her 7-year-old brother, nicknamed Oz, and her mother, Amanda Cardinal, and it is a close-knit and loving family. But Lou's world is turned upside down after an accident leaves her father dead and her mother catatonic.

The children and Amanda go to live with Jack's grandmother, for whom Lou is named, high in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. There, Lou and Oz are introduced to the hardscrabble life of the mountain people, with constant, backbreaking work. But they also discover the satisfaction of a job well done, and they live in the aura of Louisa's love for them, for the mountains and for the people living there.

They have new friends, including Diamond Skinner, who with his dog Jeb leads them on all kinds of adventures; Eugene, a young black man who helps Louisa with the farm, and Cotton Longfellow, the town lawyer who treks to the mountains regularly to read and talk to Amanda, who is locked in her own prison. Lou and Oz thrive in this atmosphere. But disaster lurks around the corner, threatening to end their happy idyll.

Baldacci's story is compelling and engrossing, and his gift for suspense is well-employed in this homey story. It is nearly impossible to put this book down, even if some of it is just a bit predictable. Even then, Baldacci manages to disrupt the reader's "prediction." The characters become real and precious to the reader through Baldacci's descriptive prose, and one mourns and celebrates along with them in their struggle to save the land. Finally, at the end of the book, the reader can appreciate the multiple levels of meaning in the title.

Like John Grisham, Baldacci has proved himself in his ability to change genres, and if Wish You Well is any example of that ability, let's hope he tries it more often.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 28 September 2002

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