Earlier in the year, I listened to 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. (Review here). At the time, I didn't realize that it was the first in a series, and while I enjoyed it, I didn't plan to read any follow up titles. So I passed on Finally, and planned to give away my ARC of 13 Gifts. Instead, I opened it to read a few pages (it is a Wendy Mass book, after all), found the following passage, and was hooked:
Since the telegram arrived, Mom's been really distracted. She's even stopped asking if I've finished my homework or made any new friends (usually her two favorite topics). Whenever I try to strike up a conversation, she mumbles something and wanders out of the room. This morning I found her keys in the freezer next to the ice cream sandwiches.
Her normal approach to mothering has always been to smother and overprotect. While I was still in my crib she taught me that talking to strangers would cause my tongue to turn green. (I believed this until I was eight.) I've never been allowed to sleep over at anyone's house, and my cell phone has a GPS tracker in it that links up to her computer. Mom promised me she'd only activate the tracker if I went missing, but when I stopped to buy gum after school last month, she texted me to get a quart of milk. Coincidence? I think not.
In a strange turn of events, Tara's overprotective mother and her dad (the devoted husband), have decided to leave Tara with relatives in Willow Falls while they travel to Madagascar, where Mrs. Brennan will be studying the mating habits of lemurs. Tara barely knows her relatives, and is bewildered by her mother's ironclad decision; but she soon finds out that this may be the least bewildering thing she encounters during her strange summer in Willow Falls.
Due to the loss of her iPod and cash,Tara becomes beholden to a mysterious, old woman named Angelina (who features prominently in the two earlier books). Angelina operates a curiosity shop, which curiously, cannot be seen by all of Willow Falls' inhabitants. Angelina tasks Tara with finding thirteen items before her 13th birthday, and Tara, normally a loner, is forced to seek the help of the strangely cooperative kids of Willow Falls.
In Willow Falls, everything happens for a reason, and most reasons are unapparent. In her search for the items on Angelina's quirky list, Tara finds much more than duck canes, frayed shawls, and misprinted books! But all the mysteries of Willow Falls and its families, are not revealed in 13 Gifts. Clearly, there are more to come.
A melding of realistic fiction and fantasy, 13 Gifts is a humorous coming-of-age story, but it's part of a much broader picture of a magical small town that, in conjunction with its oldest resident, Angelina, promotes harmony and healing - but not without a price. A fun and unconventional book.
A word of advice: it's best to read these books in order. Normally, it's fairly easy to pick up a series in midstream, but I often found myself wishing that I had read Finally, the second book in the birthday series. Things would have been a bit clearer (or at least as clear as they can be in the magical town of Willow Falls).
If you're a Wendy Mass fan and want to keep up with the latest book (and movie!) news, check out her blog, Wendy's Blog. Did you know that Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is now a movie? I didn't!