Monday, November 9, 2009

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

Wishin' and Hopin' is a cross between the movie A Christmas Story and the classic children's book by Barbara Robinson, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. *
Felix Funicello (cousin to Mousketeer Annette) narrates the story of his life as a 5th grader in a Connecticut parochial school in the winter of 1964. At one point I paused to ask myself "What is the point of this story?" I didn't have an answer, but I didn't care. Even without an underlying plot theme (like the quest for the Red Rider BB gun in A Christmas Story), the daily happenings are endearing and engrossing enough that I finished the book in one day.
Although I didn't attend Catholic school, the descriptions of the class room settings and happenings are so true to my grade-school memories that I felt right at home. The innocence of 10-year-olds of that era was charming and comical - confessing to "french kissing" a poster of a pin-up girl, re-telling dirty jokes they don't understand. There is a whole level of niavete', deportment and respect for authority that are missing in the schools my children attended, but that was so much a part of my upbringing that it made me feel both sentimental and sad.
Pop-culture references make the book even more nostalgic for baby-boomers. The Russian girl who joins their classroom mid-semester brings in the theme of the Cold War and the prevelant fear of Communism. References to the Beatles and early TV shows brought back more memories (although I really was a bit too young for Beatle-mania - I was more of the Donny Osmond generation). The Christmas pageant which is the climax of the story was reminiscent of many school and church programs from my youth. The Herdman-esque* string of catastrophes will bring a smile.
Even without a mystery to solve or a problem to resolve, this glimpse into 1964 life is a recommended read. It will alternately make you smile and want to call your mom.
* The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson - The story of the Herdmans, the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie and steal and smoke cigars (even the girls). They talk dirty, hit little kids, cuss their teachers...and take the name of the Lord in vain. So no one is prepared when the Hermans invade church one Sunday and decide to take over the annual Christmas pageant. (Synopsis from Barnes and Noble)

1 comment:

  1. What a great review. I got this one last week and am looking forward to it.