“Almost a year after the death of his wife, Kate, former high-tech executive Ian finds a letter that will change his life. It contains Kate’s final wish-a plea for him to take their ten-year-old daughter, Mattie, on a trip across Asia, through the countries they had planned to visit to celebrate their fifteenth anniversary.
Eager to honor the woman they loved, Ian and Mattie embark on an epic journey that retraces the early days of Ian’s relationship with Kate. Along the way, Ian and Mattie leave paper “wishes” in ancient trees as symbols of their connection to Kate and their dreams for the future. Through incredible landscapes and inspiring people, Ian and Mattie are greeted with miracles large and small. And as they celebrate what Kate meant to them, they begin to find their way back to each other, discovering that healing is possible and love endures-lessons that Kate hoped to show them all along…”
Thoughts: Unless one has experienced the loss of a loved one, novels about such topics are difficult to critique. Being too harsh makes a reviewer appear insensitive and somewhat cruel, but to falsely praise a story about loss and grief when it does not deserve it does a disservice to potential readers everywhere. Such is the conundrum with John Shors’ The Wishing Trees.
The Wishing Trees’ main premise, a journey between father and daughter, brought about by the dying wishes of the wife/mother, is poignant and compelling. Imagine rediscovering old haunts and places held dear in one’s memory while still suffering from the loss of one’s beloved. As a result, Ian and Mattie’s journey is as complicated, and as emotional, as one would expect. However, the issue with The Wishing Trees is the fact that it is all a bit too much. It is too emotional, too dramatic, too predictable. Ian’s Australian accent is too exaggerated. Mattie’s artistic skills are too perfect. The storyline is too tidy. All too soon into this relatively short story, it takes on a fairy tale-like quality, in which the reader must suspend disbelief in order to continue reading. Even though Mr. Shors does not shy away from highlighting the problems with each of the countries Ian and Mattie visit, he also romanticizes the locales too much, making it appear that the countries’ problems are easily solved by money. It is not necessarily the lesson Mr. Shors was intending to portray, but it unfortunately comes across to the reader that way just the same.
The end result is a novel that is a bit too saccharin for full enjoyment. Ian and Mattie quickly become caricatures, and a reader can predict the ending well before the halfway point of the novel. While Mr. Shors’ descriptions of the various countries is excellent and quite evocative, Ian’s explanations to Mattie as well as what occurs in each country is patronizing. It is as if the reader is Mattie, and Mr. Shors, through Ian, is talking down to the reader much as a school teacher would when lecturing difficult or exasperating students. While cute for the first fifty pages, it becomes difficult to swallow as the story progresses.
The Wishing Trees is not a bad story; however it is not very good one either. Grief is a tricky emotion to portray with sensitivity and authenticity, and unfortunately, Mr. Shors falls short in accomplishing this. Ian and Mattie’s grief is too overdone to be believable, and the entire novel reads like a sermon about moving on with one’s life and about the hardships others face around the globe. Less preaching and more overall realism would go a long way to improving one’s overall enjoyment of the story. As it stands, there are better novels written that explore this topic with more subtlety and finesse than The Wishing Trees.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Readers Program for my review copy!