Friday, December 24, 2010

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb — 288 pages


Book CoverFelix Funicello is ten years old and attending the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School. Far from from being a worldly young man, Felix is confused about the birds and the bees to an extreme degree, unlike most of his classmates. This is a huge holiday season for Felix, as his mother is off to Chicago to participate in the Pillsbury Bake-Off, and Felix himself will be one of the guests of honor on The Ranger Andy television show. Things are also heating up at school with the new substitute who has taken over during Sister Dymphna's mental health break. Felix may or may not have had something to do with this, but he's not telling. When a new Russian student joins Felix's already unruly fifth grade class, things begin to spiral towards a madness previously unseen at St. Aloysius'. When the substitute, Madame Frechette, decides to host a special tableau vivant instead of the old tried-and-true Christmas pageant, Felix and his classmates jostle for position as the lead in each scene. This means that brown-nosing his arch-nemesis, Rosalie Twerski, is in high form, and there's going to be a reckoning. Did I mention that Felix is Annette Funicello's second cousin? Because he is, and Felix won't let anybody forget it. As the days count down to the festivities, Felix and the gang at St. Aloysius begin to spiral towards one of the most unforgettable holiday experiences anyone has ever seen, and who knows, Felix may get closer to actually meeting his cousin than he ever has before.

Every year I tell myself I'm going to get some holiday-specific reading done, and ever year I neglect to do it. This year, I partially succeeded with a Halloween read, but since it's Christmas, I wanted to do it up right and read a book with a lot of Christmas atmosphere and presence. I chose this one because I've read most of Wally Lambs other books and have always had such a good time with them. A lot of other bloggers have also read this book for the holidays and I felt that after reading all the rave reviews, I couldn't go wrong with old Felix. I'm happy to say I was not at all disappointed!

Reading things from Felix's viewpoint was a complete immersion into the mind of a ten-year-old. Lamb gets Felix's thoughts and ideas down perfectly, and not only is Felix a one-of-a-kind narrator, he's really fresh and funny as well. Felix is more than a little immature in a lot of ways but he's very endearing and looks at the world with a sense of wonder that older children may have already shed. He knows nothing about the lascivious jokes that are shared in the schoolyard, and when he questions his father about them, all he gets is some garbled information about drinking fountain etiquette. This leads Felix to more and more bizarre thoughts about the birds and the bees, and when he finally learns what French kissing is all about, look out world! Felix is in fierce competition with Rosalie Twerski for the top spot in class, and reading about this took me back. We've all met a Rosalie "Terdski" or two, as Felix calls her. Someone who is a constant kiss-up to all those who are above her and who makes all the other kids mad when she coyly mentions homework just as the dismissal bell rings.

The book deals with the time period from just before Halloween right through Christmas, and as such, we get to see Felix and his buddy tick-or-treating in the rain and all the events leading up to that fateful Christmas tableau. The section about Felix's mother's television debut at the bake-off was particularly funny, but in a way that had you almost covering your eyes. When Felix attend The Ranger Andy show, his ignorance of the basics of sex becomes a real show-stopper, literally. Add to the mix a new Russian classmate who prefers to play with the boys rather than the girls like herself and the slightly wild-eyed substitute teacher, and Felix's whole holiday gets a lot more interesting. Lamb seems to have accomplished catching the early 60s in a sort of narrative bubble and really shows that it was a time of innocence and hope for everyone involved. Yes, some things haven't changed, but there's a sort of timeless and refreshing naivety about this period that Lamb is able to draw out and capture perfectly. By making Felix Funicello the star of this particular show, Lamb only increases and magnifies this feature.

After many hitches, the Christmas tableau is finally unveiled, and lets just say that things don't go exactly as planned. There is hysteria and nervousness and at least one instance of flagrant nose picking, and Felix is right in the middle of it all. The tableau also brought back a lot of old Christmas memories of when I was in grade school and we would have to sing and shake our little jingle bells for those assembled. It was fun to be able to reminisce for a little while, and Lamb does a great job of making his story wacky but heartwarming as well.

This was the prefect light and funny Christmas read for me, and I'm glad I took a chance with Lamb and Felix this year. Despite its short length, it manages to capture a lot of the optimism and simplicity of the early 60s and is a great read to snack on during this time of year. If you haven't read anything by Lamb and are looking for a Christmas read that will keep you laughingly turning the pages, then this is the book for you!

Merry Christmas to all of my blogging buddies out there! You guys are such an amazing bunch and every year I grow more and more thankful that you are all a part of my life. I hope Santa is kind to you and that you all enjoy the best possible holiday season with your family and friends!


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

18 comments:

TheBookGirl said...

Glad to see that you enjoyed this one too Heather! I thought it was the perfect Christmas read -- particularly because I don't like anything overly schmaltzy :)

Hope you have a wonderful holiday!

bermudaonion said...

I read this last year and fell in love with Felix. I grew up during that time period and could really relate to parts of the book. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

softdrink said...

Merry Christmas to you, too...have a wonderful holiday!

Amy said...

Merry Christmas to you as well zibilee. Blogging friends are the best :)

This book sounds really funny. I haven't read anything by Lamb but maybe I will have to next year.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Merry Christmas to you too!!!

Suko said...

Zibilee, this book sounds funny and I think I'd really enjoy it. Wonderful review (what else is new?!). Have a terrific Christmas!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Heather, I liked this holiday book a lot when I read it last year. Hope you know that I am wishing you the best Christmas ever. Looking forward to sharing our love of books once again in 2011.

Aarti said...

How funny, I'm reading a "Christmas-y" book now, too! Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith. It's not so much Christmas-like as winter-ful, but it fits the weather, I think :-)

Melissa M said...

I'll have to come back later and read your review as my online time is short today, but I wanted to stop by and wish you a Merry Christmas!

Amy said...

Merry Christmas, Heather!

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

Merry Christmas to you and your family! What a great Christmas read! I do like Wally Lamb but I have not read this one yet - I'm definitely picking this one up! Have an awesome Christmas weekend!

Jenny said...

Merry Christmas to you too! I don't do nearly as much NEW holiday reading as I should -- generally I just reread the old stand-bys. I am unadventurous at the holiday times.

Literary Feline said...

I think your description of this book as a snack is perfect, Heather. I am glad you enjoyed this one.

I hope you had a very Merry Christmas!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I hope you had a very Merry Christmas, Heather!

The two Wally Lamb books I've read were great (esp. enjoyed SHE'S COME UNDONE); I'll have to get this in queue for next year.

nomadreader (Carrie) said...

I always intend to read holiday books, and I failed this year (although I have read quite a few wintery reads, which has been fun.) I'll have to keep this one on my radar for next Christmas!)

Lisa said...

I love the cover of this one--it reminds me of the movie A Christmas Story. Glad to hear that the book lives up what I imagined it would be from the cover!d

Pam said...

I really enjoy Wally Lamb's books, as well, but I hadn't heard of this one. I'm going to add it to my to be read list.

Darlene said...

Sorry I'm so behind on my comments but I'm glad to see you loved this book. I thought it was a great read for this time of year too.

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