Genie Wishes by Elisabeth Dahl – Reviewed by Katherine Sokolowski
Looking back on my teen years, I have come to a conclusion: growing up is tough, and the middle grades can be the worst. Your body is changing; your friends can betray you; you like boys, you don’t like boys; your parents don’t seem to be the same anymore; and you constantly search for who you really are. It is a time of confusion, frustration, endings, and beginnings. And while sometimes we do read books to escape from life, sometimes it is also comforting to find ourselves in books.
In 1984 I was just entering fourth grade. I loved the author Judy Blume and was fortunate to find her book, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I felt like this book was almost illicit. It talked about bras, periods, first kisses, boys, etc. I read it over and over – to the point that when I reread it last summer, I remembered the color of the bathing suit she borrowed from her friend. (Yellow) This beautiful book made me feel like I wasn’t alone, which is exactly what I needed.
I recommend it often and, when kids return the book to me they often ask for another book “just like this one.” Sometimes I would struggle to find a book that gave me the same feeling as this old favorite. Now I have a new book to hand off, Elisabeth Dahl’s Genie Wishes.
Genie Kunkle is starting fifth grade and everything should be terrific, her best friend Sarah is in her class. Unfortunately, so is the new girl, Blair. Blair and Sarah went to summer camp together and have become friends – is there room for three in this group?
Genie has also been selected as the class blogger. At her school each classroom will have a class blog this year. Genie names her blog “Genie Wishes” to tie into the school theme that year.
Other issues arise as the book progresses – the friendship one, but also some issues with boys, cliques, sex education class, puberty, and more. I loved how Genie’s voice just pulls you in, everything doesn’t always go her way – and she is definintely wronged more than once, she doesn’t complain but reevaluates her situation and moves on. I think she is an excellent example for girls getting ready to enter this new phase in their lives.
Genie Wishes will go into the group of books I recommend to my students when they want books about “real life with real kids.” I loved so much about this book but the friendship issue in particular was well handled. Fifth graders are often on the cusp of becoming teens. You have the kids who are still just little kids, and you have the kids that think they should be in high school, yesterday. Blair would represent that group. She is worried about clothes, boys, make-up, status, weight, etc. Genie and Sarah would be firmly in the younger group, but Sarah starts to move in Blair’s direction.
What I just absolutely loved was that Genie really seemed to know who she was. She didn’t change herself completely to try and fit in better with Sarah and Blair. Sure, she shaved her legs when they teased her, went to a make-up party, but the true person she is stayed the same. Genie seemed to genuinely like herself and that is something we don’t see enough of in books for this age group. Genie also finds her own voice on her blog – and in real life – as the book progresses. Something kids can relate to.
If I was a fifth grader now, I know Genie would be a character I would keep close to Margaret in my heart. Both would teach me about growing up and comfort me when I felt lost. Genie Wishes is a beautiful book that belongs in your middle grade classroom libraries.
Katherine Sokolowski has taught for fourteen years and currently teaches fifth grade in Monticello, Illinois. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. You can find her online at http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter as @katsok.