Wishin’ and Hopin’ by Wally Lamb

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Wishin’ and Hopin’ by Wally Lamb

Lamb, Wally. Wishin’ and Hopin’. Harper Perennial, 2010 (reprint). ISBN 978-0061941016 274PP. $15.99

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If you liked the Best Christmas Pageant Ever (or A Christmas Story), you’ll probably enjoy this holiday tale of classroom politics firmly entrenched in 1964. Now an adult, narrator Felix Funicello, (cousin to the famous Mouseketeer) reflects on the year LBJ was president, when he was the smallest person in his fifth grade class. His lively personality is bigger than he is. Felix may be smart, but he doesn’t have a lot of common sense, and his antics inside the classroom, and out, as he tries to maintain his class standing, figure out girls, and wrangle a good role in the upcoming “tableau vivant” are uproarious, and you don’t need to be a boomer or have gone to Catholic school to appreciate the struggles of a working class family or the annoyance of a teacher’s pet.

Lamb has a clever way with words, and there were many laugh out loud funny moments, like when a carefully aimed BB results in a manic depressive nun’s nervous breakdown, or when Felix unfortunately decides to tell the only joke he knows on live television–an off-color joke he overhead a sailor tell at the lunch counter his family runs. The story takes off at a gallop, but it gets a little murky in the middle with the introduction of a student from Russia whose accent takes some acclimating too. Lamb finishes strong, but there is a sense the story is little more than a foil for his two punchlines about Felix’s stature and his relationship to his famous cousin.

Great storytelling, but pace and quality isn’t uniformly sustained to make it distinguished. Most of the references are low hanging fruit, but I’m sure there were a lot of things I missed as a Gen Xer, and today’s teens are another generation removed.

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