Tuesday, April 07, 2015

When You Wish Upon A Star.... Genuine Sweet by Faith Harkey

"So," said Jura, "when we look at the stars, the light we're seeing has been traveling for years, even centuries, to get to Earth, right?"

"Uh huh." I said.

"Based on Einstein's stuff, the further away the star, the older the starlight, right? So scientists can see so far back in time that they're actually looking at stars that were born when the universe began."

"Bring it back around to the barn, Jura," I said.

"So. Your star juice could be as infinite as the universe itself." Jura grabbed my hand.

"Genuine, you have the power of the entire space-time continuum at your command!"

I was starting to get it. And truth to tell, I was scared.

When twelve-year-old Genuine (pronounced Gen-u-wine) Sweet learns from her grandmother that she has a "shine," an inherited magical gift, to fetch wishes from captured liquid starlight--so long as it is for a good purpose--she is disappointed that wishes for her own family aren't allowed. Gram, Gen, and her jobless, town-drunk father are often hungry. Their old house is leaky and can't keep the cold out, and with winter coming on, the electric bill is overdue, Still, when Genuine meets a new girl in town, Jura Carver, self-proclaimed, "big-town middle school refugee," she can't help fetching her first solo wish for her new friend, a wish that her mom will find a job so they can stay in tiny Sass, Georgia. When an newspaper ad appears for a job that just suits Jura's mom, Gen realizes that she has the power to do much good with her shine.

But Jura is smart and she thinks big--like, for starters, ending world hunger.

A practical dreamer, Jura first comes up with a way for Genuine to fix her own problems without breaking the rules--a wish-and-barter scheme. So Gen offers to wish Handyman Joe's dead daddy's war medal will turn up in return for repairs on their old house and offers to wish-fetch Chicken Lady Snopes some replacement henhouses in return for all the eggs they can eat. Overnight, Joe's sister finds the lost medal under her sofa cushions, and Miz Snopes spots some cast-off henhouses beside the road. But Gen's third client looks to be harder to help:

Mrs. Trompe, mother of Gen's classmate, Travis, seventh-grade's only Goth guy and jerk, wishes for a good man for herself and a father for Travis in return for all the vegetables Gen's family needs for a year. It's a good deal, but Genuine feels she has to be honest with Travis' mom.

"Be patient, all right? I'm just figuring out how this works. It might take some time for the stars to arrange things like traffic detours and whatnot, to get your man here."

The electric company, however, turns out to be uninterested in wish bartering.

Dear Ms. Sweet:
Unfortunately we do not accept payment in the form of goods and/or services. For your convenience, you may pay your bill with cash, check, or credit card. Please note that your current bill is three days overdue.

Meanwhile, Genuine is overwhelmed with wishes from what seems like all 523 people in Sass, and Jura is busy setting up a website,, with the idea of connecting the world's needy with what she calls the international needs infrastructure. All Gen has to do, she insists, is fetch wishes for each needy person to connect to groups that have an oversupply of stuff or transport. The news of the magical wish fetcher in a tiny Georgia town goes viral, and Genuine is up all night capturing starlight and baking it into wish biscuits suitable for express shipping. Everything and everyone seems to be tangled with everything else, and the more she wishes to fix things, the more complicated things get. Between the town and the rest of the world, Gen's worn out and wished out.

Then Gram dies suddenly. Genuine is sure it is her fault. She's DEAD. she tells herself. She froze to death. The electric went out. The bill was overdue and you knew it. You were off, looking after folks who weren't even yours to care for, she thinks.

"Be careful what you wish for...," is but one of the themes in Faith Harkey's just-published Genuine Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), and the song Gen hears the stars sing, "All will be well...," becomes hard for her to believe. In this novel of magical realism, there is a lot of hard-headed goodness and wisdom as well as the dazzling silver promise of the stars. Genuine Sweet is a remarkably real and resilient character who runs up against the inevitable unforeseen consequences of her powers and accepts the responsibility for making things happen the hard way. Vivid small town characters and humor fill this down-home story, right along with the endless mystery of human will, goodness, and power in the music of the universe.

"I remember what Gram said about finding your own way," says Gen.

"Good given away always comes back to you."

Fans of Lisa Graff's A Tangle of Knots and Ingrid Law's Newbery Honor book, Savvy, and sequels (see reviews here) or even Natalie Babbit's classic wish fulfillment novel Tuck Everlasting, will find Genuine Sweet a funny, unforgettable, and meaningfully magical novel, too.

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