"Hannie and I were walking home from school when we saw a unicorn in Newell's field. It wasn't a real unicorn. There's no such thing as a real unicorn. It was just a stuffed thing, propped up against the fence post."
When they find the unicorn Mags knows it cannot really grant wishes but then oddly two wishes (fairly simple ones) do come true so perhaps it is time to make the biggest wish of all.
"I just wanted to be like everyone else, living in a house big enough so we wouldn't be tiptoeing around Mama sleeping on the living room couch in the middle of the day. ... I wanted to look and act and be just like the other kids at school and not be embarrassed about who I am."
Wish on a Unicorn is a very short book with just over 100 pages but it is an emotional story about a life in poverty, the struggles of living with a disabled sibling, the desperate need to fit in with your peer group and the need to protect the ones you love. Mags also has to contend with a bully, her mother's moods and trying to keep her brother Mooch out of trouble.
Mama works all night and sleeps through the day which means younger brother Mooch is left to roam the neighborhood - he is not yet old enough to attend school. Little sister Hannie is eight. "She looks normal enough ... Mama's says she's slow on account of she didn't get enough air to breathe when she was being born."
There were moments in this book when I simply had to stop reading. One of the first wishes by Mags is for new clothes. Perhaps coincidentally a bag of almost new clothes arrives from her aunt. Among the collection is a special sweater with a penguin on the front. Mags wears it to school hoping this will make Alice and Patty Jo might notice her. I just hoped they would like it and not ridicule her. There is another scene late in the story when Mags tries to cross a busy highway - it is truly terrifying.
Karen Hesse really captures the right tone with her expressions in this book :
"I wasn't moving my skinny self over there in any hurry."
"Hannie runs slower than cold gravy"
"Hannie's as stubborn as boot leather"
"Even if you're turned inside-out hungry"
"he was clinging like an old bean creeper to a pole"
"her mouth sweet and round like a pink-iced doughnut"
"It felt worse than sour milk on an empty stomach"
Karen Hesse really did see a unicorn toy in a field and this incident inspired the book Wish upon a Unicorn. Our copy of this book has a question and answer section at the back where you can read more about this talented writer and award winning writer.
I am a huge fan of Karen Hesse. Read my reviews of Out of the Dust, Sable and Lavender. You might also like to read Waiting for Normal it has a similar theme, tone and setting.
Here are two other covers - which one do you prefer?