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Likely Stories - The Wishing Game

I want to talk today about a book that completely captured my heart, The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer.

As a child of the 80s and 90s, I grew up watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—no, not the more eccentric remake with Johnny Depp, but the classic, heartwarming version with Gene Wilder. This book is written as an homage to that film and is a masterful work of nostalgia, a story within a story, full of riddles, games, and wishing with all your might.

Lucy Hart used to read Jack Masterson’s books when she was a young girl and became so enraptured with the magical, fictional world he created that she ran away to his mysterious home on the self-titled Clock Island, so she was devastated when he suddenly stopped writing. Now, years later, Lucy is a grade school teacher, and Jack announces a contest in which a select few adults can win the chance to receive the only copy of his forthcoming book.

Lucy is determined to be one of those lucky ones so that she can have enough money to adopt the little boy in her class who has stolen her heart. As Lucy returns to Clock Island, she meets the other players and discovers a series of enigmatic riddles and challenges in which they must compete. She also meets the irritating (and yet very alluring) book illustrator, Hugo.One by one the players are eliminated by the competitions and puzzles until just a few remain. Lucy has to face all her fears in the course of her time on Clock Island, but when her greatest fear is losing the one person she loves most, she will have to make difficult choices to win the ultimate reward.

This book was near-perfect for me; it was in my top 3 best books of 2023. The level of detail is unmatched—Shaffer wrote multiple excerpts for the fictitious books Jack Masterson authored, and many of the puzzles or challenges the contestants participate in are also ones the reader can play along with while you read. There are well-written relationship tensions on multiple fronts, and each pairing is developed and beautiful. The story mirrors the plot of Willy Wonka while still standing on its own merits, but the biggest praise I can give it is that is provides that undefinable emotion you get when you read a really terrific book—it just makes you feel the warm fuzzies all over. I think this one will stand the test of time for me, it truly is everything you could wish for.

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Paige Connell has been a Wacoan since 2002 when she attended Baylor University, fell in love with the city, and never left. She works at Midway High School and has been teaching English since 2009. Paige’s passion is reading: she regularly reads 120 books or more each year and loves to share her thoughts on Goodreads and social media. Additionally, Paige co-authored the children’s book Goodnight Waco on behalf of the Junior League of Waco in 2021. When she’s not reading or listening to a book, you can find her nursing a mug of tea, analyzing Taylor Swift lyrics for figurative language elements, or spending time with her family—her husband Chance, her daughter Cara, and her Corgi mutt Remy.