Skip to main content

Finally, by Wendy Mass, 296 pp, RL 4





When I reviewed 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass in early 2010, I had no idea that it would be the first in a quartet of books now referred to as the Willow Falls Series. Happily (although four years later...) I am getting around to finishing this series, starting with Finally! While each book in this series can be read as a stand alone, it's really fun to see characters from other books in the series make cameo appearances. The one constant in all four books is the elderly Angelina D'Angelo and her duck shaped birthmark on her cheek. Where the magical elements in 11 Birthdays caused the main characters Amanda and Leo to relive the day of their eleventh (shared) birthday over and over until they repaired the damage to their life-long friendship that occurred after their 10th joint birthday party, the magic is much more low-key in Finally, and practically non-existent except for the presence of Angelina, who has an uncanny ability to show up unexpectedly.

When we first meet Rory Swenson she is stuck in a drainpipe at the Willow Falls Reservoir where her sixth grade class has gone for yet another field trip. When a strange old woman finds her, she gets a mysterious warning before being hauled out of the drainpipe. When the old woman ask Rory what the universe might want her to pause and reflect upon, she is mystified since she leads such a boring life. Even though she tries to tell the woman this, she gets this cryptic advice before being yanked out of her tight spot, "You won't get what you want, Rory Swenson, until you see what you need." But, Rory knows exactly what she needs. Having grown up the child of two frugal young parents with ideas about discipline that will seem strict and overly anxious to many readers, Rory is anxiously awaiting her twelfth birthday, one that will bring privileges with it that many of her friends have been enjoying for years. In fact, Rory has made a chart of BIG THINGS and SMALL THINGS that she will FINALLY get to do when she turns twelve, some of which she has been waiting for for years. The BIG THINGS list consists of things like getting a cell phone, having a pet, staying home alone, going to a boy-girl party, wearing make-up, babysitting, getting her ears pierced, shaving her legs, going to the mall with no parental supervision, and getting contact lenses. The SMALL THINGS list is made up of things like getting her own house key, using the stove, oven and other electrical appliances, staying up until 9:30, sitting in the front seat of the car, watching Friday the 13th, Part IX, doing her homework without having her mom check it, walking the three blocks to school alone, riding an upside down roller coaster, buying lunch in the cafeteria and picking out her own clothes.

From the start, being twelve and being allowed to to the things on her lists doesn't go the way she had expected. Rory's parents give her an armful of pamphlets of cell phones they approve of and tell her to make an educated choice and share her reasoning with them. When she finally chooses a very basic phone that allows a maximum of parental restrictions and agrees to pay for the insurance plan, her father takes her out to buy the phone. Three stores later, Rory finally has a phone which she promptly loses as she is walking from the store to her car. Leg shaving, ear piercing and contact wearing are even more painful and embarrassing than the cell phone incident, made even more so by the fact that a Hollywood movie staring the hot teen actors of the moment, Jake Harrison and Madison Waters, are using Rory's school as the location for their next big movie. Rory and her friends have been chosen to be extras, a lucrative job that also puts her in close proximity to the charming Jake and the diva-esque Madison. Jake finds Rory's predicament, as she goes from bloody, bumpy bandaged leg (shaving gone wrong) to a swollen face (allergic reaction to all natural make-up) to a cauliflower-sized ear (allergic reaction to gold) entertaining, but in a good-natured way, while Rory finds herself increasingly disenchanted and ready to stay home. 

However, as things go from bad to worse for Rory, the reader sees her make a series of seemingly small observations and actions that, by the climax of the novel, add up to a truly amazing revelation and wonderful realization of the words that Angelina D'Angelo spoke to Rory at the start of the novel. Amanda and Leo, in the same grade as Rory, show up over the course of the story to give Rory nudges in the right direction here and there, inviting her to their joint birthday party where they will be planting apple trees in the hopes of bringing back the apple orchards that once covered Willow Falls. What wiped out the apple orchards? You'll have to read 11 Birthdays to find out!

13 Gifts features the cousin of a minor character from Finally as the main character with appearances from Amanda and Leo, now using blackboards to communicate, and Rory, who may or may not be dating THE Jake Harrison. The Final Present finds Leo and Amanda back as the main characters, racing back and forth through time as they try to save a young girl in a coma by revisiting her previous birthdays...

The Willow Falls Series




Source: Purchased

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!

Be…

POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…

The Seeing Stick, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Daniela J Terrazini

The Seeing Stick is an original Chinese fairy tale written by the prolific (and prolifically award winning) Jane Yolen. First published in 1977 with illustrations by Remy Charlip (author and illustrator of the brilliantly fun picture book Fortunately and friend and muse to Brian Selznick, who asked him to pose as George Méliès while he was working on the Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Seeing Stick was reissued with new illustrations by Daniela J. Terrazini in 2009. I have not seen Charlip's version, but Terrazini's is a beautiful work of art and the book itself is yet another magnificently packaged book published by Running Press, the house that brought us Steven Arntson's The Wikkeling, yet another superbly and uniquely packaged children's book with artwork by Terrazini. Interestingly, both The Wikkeling and The Seeing Stick were designed by Frances J Soo Ping Chow.

The Seeing Stick begins, "Once in the ancient walled citadel of Peking there l…