by Wally Lamb
This quick read reminded me a bit of "The Christmas Story" but much, much more fun. Maybe after being subjected to the play "The Christmas Story" all of December I got sick of it and so am a bit biased against it, but I enjoyed "Wishin' and Hopin'" much more than I ever enjoyed "The Christmas Story".
Little Felix Funicello first of all has a great name. (Don't worry, Mom, I don't love it enough to name any future children Felix...) Secondly, he's a cute kid, in both personality and physicality. The reader can't help but love him. He's referred to as looking like a cartoon character, and is actually almost cartoon-ish in his own voice and actions.
If you think the last name sounds familiar, that's because it is-- Felix is the third cousin of Annette Funicello. Despite the distant relationship, she influences his and his sisters' lives, both directly and indirectly. It's interesting how she barely makes an actual appearance in the book and yet her presence is there throughout the book in the posters hanging in the lunch counter and various mentions in the story.
The other kids in Felix's fifth grade class are wonderful characters and make for quite an entertaining semester of school. I especially loved Zhenya, the Russian immigrant who was both sassy and mysterious. It was great how her entrance into the story mixed things up, especially in the middle of the 60's, when people were wary of Russians and thought they were all Communists.
The book is a series of funny things that happen to Felix, his family, and his fellow classmates right up until Christmas. It's cute and amusing, though I wouldn't call it a Christmas story; it's a must-read for any time of the year.