1) Go to Target (she's been there five times in two days to prepare for her trip)
2) Pack up her Skittles (she has six bags stashed in her desk drawer)
3) Say good-bye to her "semi-new, semi-boyfriend" Dylan (they've been dating for two weeks)
4) Temporarily give her cat to her paternal grandparents (Gloves can't come on their trip)
5) Stock up on postcards and stamps (so she can write to Dylan, her friend Sarah, and, yes, even Gloves)
Once those things are done - and they are, about twenty pages in, quickly moving the story along - Ariel thinks she's ready for her trip. By that time, readers know this road trip with her family won't be like any that she's had before, because er dad won't be coming along.
"The whole blackjack craze. Dad got swept up in it. Like, literally, off his chair and onto the floor and into the dustbin on history. From there, it was an easy trip to the horse track, etc."
Ariel's father spent his life savings on bets. When that ran out, he used the kids' college savings. When that ran out, he embezzled from his company. Throughout it all, he kept his gambling a secret from his family. Finally, he was found out, arrested, and released due to a lack of state's evidence. Now, he's living with his parents, separated from his two daughters and his (ex-)wife, and his oldest daughter is having a hard time believing that her father, the guy who seemed so solid, who helped her pick out her cat from the Humane Society seven years ago, could have done this to his family.
But maybe she can. After all, this is also the man who gave his daughters their names by randomly flipping to pages in a baby name book and pointing.
Her bags packed with lots of socks, shirts, books, notebooks, postcards, and Skittles, Ariel gets into the car with her mother and her younger sister, Zena. Mom, the author of three self-help books, decides that this will be a "realsimple" summer free of cell phones, emails, and computers - hence Ariel's stockpile of stamps and postcards.
Like a pair of Ariel's running shoes, the relationship between the sisters is comfortable and well-worn. They are close but dissimilar. Twelve-year-old Zena would rather read glossy magazines than novels. She prefers flirting to running and covers almost all of her food in ketchup. She has her mother's flyway curly-wavy-blondish hair and curves. Sixteen-year-old Ariel thinks her sister has the body she's supposed to have, and vice-versa. She calls Zena "twelvunerable."
Not even one full day into their trip, Ariel's mother reveals the truth: They aren't going to drive across the country. Instead, they're going to take a bus trip . . . with her maternal grandparents . . . and her Uncle Jeff, who quit his job as a postal carrier after being attacked by squirrels . . . and a busload of strangers, most of which are senior citizens. The only exceptions are a family from Germany; the gung-ho trip leaders, Australian Lenny and American Jenny; and a well-dressed woman and her son, Andre, who looks like he wants to be there as much as Ariel does.
This ought to be fun.
And it is. As the story carries its passengers off the beaten path, readers will feel as if they are seated right next to Ariel on the bus. Jenny and Lenny keep their traveling itinerary a surprise, claiming that it helps people relax, while it only makes Ariel more jumpy. She hopes she'll be able to meet up with Dylan, who is spending his summer as a counselor at a summer camp.
Each character has his or her own distinct personality. Ariel is sometimes stunned by the other passengers, but none more than her family members. Who knew that her grandfather was so fit that he could easily keep up with her while running?
The dialogue is realistic and quick. Ariel's relatives enjoy using faux portmanteaus and invented words like "fantasterrific," while Andre, frequently seen highlighting words in his vocabulary book, tends to use three synonyms in a row ("It's fantastic. Terrific. Amazing.") Postcards, most of them written to Dylan, separate the chapters while marking their stops along the way.
Just when Ariel starts to enjoy the trip - especially, and unexpectedly, her camaraderie with Andre - the appearances and absences of other characters shake up her already unpredictable summer.
From the author of The Alison Rules comes the story of an atypical family's atypical time on the road. Wish You Were Here by Catherine Clark is a fun trip, so get on the bus, stow your bags, and settle in.
Taking The Trip
One Saturday morning in January, Wish You Were Here by Catherine Clark traveled with me this morning while I walked, ran errands, and walked home. I came inside, sat down, and keep reading until I was done.
"Are these rhetorical questions? And if so, can anyone join in?" - Ariel's mother, page 96
Because I'm not twelve anymore. And not being twelve means knowing things that aren't necessarily things you want to know. - Page 183
For more about Catherine Clark's other books, check out her Author Spotlight.