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Wishin' and Hopin': A Christmas Story    by Wally Lamb order for
Wishin' and Hopin'
by Wally Lamb
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Every year the holidays spawn a number of novels that feature a Christmas theme. While some authors create uplifting stories with heartwarming messages, other writers recycle the Scrooge scenario in various imaginative (or not so imaginative) ways. The majority of these books are not only easily forgettable but lack any appeal once December 25th is past.

Fortunately, this isn't the case with Wishin' and Hopin'. Yes, the story does conclude with a hysterical, grade school Christmas pageant, but there's much more to this very funny novel.

It's 1964 and Felix Funicello is having one of the most memorable years a ten year old could possible imagine. He's a fifth grader at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School, and Felix's family and friends have the ring of authenticity that many readers will easily recognize.

On the school front, the cast of characters range from the strict, no-nonsense nuns and an eccentric lay teacher to a wonderful array of students. There's Rosalie Twerski, Felix's academic nemesis and the class brown noser, and Zhenya Kabakova, a new girl who just arrived from Russia and is more physically endowed and outspoken than the other girls in the class.

Felix's naivete is played off against his street-smart best friend. Two years older than the rest of his classmates, Lonny may be academically challenged but provides Felix a window to a much grittier world than what he finds at school or at home.

The middle class Funicello family operate the lunch counter in the local bus station and are distant relatives of the famous Annette, the iconic Mouseketeer and star of the beach blanket films.

Whether he is sharing events like his mother's disastrous television appearance on the Pillsbury Bake-Off or his equally embarrassing joke telling faux pas on a local children's show (which got the program cancelled), Felix has a knack for telling a story.

The humor in this book is reminiscent of A Christmas Story and Ralphie and Felix do bear some similarities. Is this story as funny as Ralphie's misadventures? I think it definitely is. There are a number of classic scenes in Wishin' and Hopin' that make the reader laugh out loud. And, perhaps more to the point, this novel will also translate into a very entertaining movie.

Since it is not just a holiday story, if (or when) Wishin' and Hopin' is discovered by Hollywood, it will probably have a broad, non-seasonal appeal. It may not dethrone A Christmas Story as the best and funniest holiday story/film, but it could well share the top spot or run a very, very close second.

If you read just a single holiday book, this is the one you want to purchase. You'll find it is a very fast read and when you're done you'll want to share it. My wife is currently reading it and when she's finished the novel will be sent to other family members. That's the highest recommendation - wanting to share it - that a book can have!

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