3.5 / 5
"The song 'Wishing Well' by the Millionaires (Decca, 1966) was as rare as it was weird, and my dad named his record shop after it."
In the tradition of High Fidelity and Empire Records, this is the literary soundtrack to Skylark Martin’s strange, mysterious, and extraordinary summer.
This is the story of a wild girl and a ghost girl; a boy who knew nothing and a boy who thought he knew everything.
It’s a story about Skylark Martin, who lives with her father and brother in a vintage record shop and is trying to find her place in the world. It’s about ten-year-old Super Agent Gully and his case of a lifetime. And about beautiful, reckless, sharp-as-knives Nancy. It’s about tragi-hot Luke, and just-plain-tragic Mia Casey. It’s about the dark underbelly of a curious neighborhood. It’s about summer, and weirdness, and mystery, and music.
And it's about life and death and grief and romance. All the good stuff.
This is definitely a case of me partially choosing a book by its cover - I loved the blend of record-bin vintage and cartoon drawings. Turns out this book was also nostalgic in another way, too: it felt like a more modern, Australian, novelized version of My So-Called Life in a lot of ways. Which of course I loved, MSCL being an old favorite. I could see the main character, Sky, as Angela Chase, and her tough and reckless friend Nancy as Rayanne. So that was pretty great. Plus, Sky's dad was a drunker version of Rob Fleming, which brings back another sort of nostalgia for me. Sans Championship Vinyl and top-ten lists.
The book itself was enjoyable - another one I probably would have latched onto and loved were I still in high school (or anywhere NEAR high school age...hah!). As it was, it was an enjoyable story about misfits and family and friendship and love. And about finding yourself, and "your people" as Sky's mother puts it. I felt, though, like at times I was "out of the loop" because a lot of slang and local jargon was used in the book, and I have no familiarity with Australian-isms. So, that made the book a little rougher to read than it otherwise could have been. Not that I blame the author! I just wish I got more of the references...
Overall, though, a fun and touching book about how everyone defines (and interacts with) family in different ways. Sky is "saddled" with the caretaking of her oddball younger brother because her father is usually too busy with running the record store - or too drunk. Luke wishes he had been able to take better care of his own sister. Nancy continually runs from whatever family she might have once had, opting instead to forge temporary (and often unhealthy) connections which she will forsake for the opportunity to "travel the world" (read: escape over & over again to other places). I did like the connections Howell built between Sky's father and his old friend, and how Sky's yearning for her estranged mother didn't become too cliched. Things didn't work out perfectly in this book; it wasn't intended to. But I like books where people figure out how they can find a way through. Ultimately, the entire Martin family is able to move forward in one way or another. No, this doesn't promise blue skies and rainbows forever. This isn't a sanitized Grimm tale. It's just a small slice of life, and one to learn from.
A fun side note: the name of the record shop where the Martins live and work is the Wishing Well, named after the following (rare and elusive) tune:
Support Shelf Notes! Purchase your copy of this book here: