The Plot: Erin Channing has the highest GPA in tenth grade. Yes, she’s the smart one. She’s so normal she’s a bit boring and that has her worried. She really wants to go on the AP Art History Trip to Italy. Who wouldn’t? Problem is, only five students are going on the trip and those five will be picked based on their grade in AP Art History (shouldn’t be a problem, Erin does have the highest GPA) and on a personal essay that demonstrates “personalities, outside interests, and strength of character.” Erin imagines that reading books and doing crossword puzzles aren’t the type of “outside interests” that get you on an all expenses paid trip to Italy.
One minute, she’s complaining to her friends Lindsay and Samantha that “I’m boring. I’ve never had anything happen to me.” The next minute, the phone rings. Her Aunt Kate is dead. Kate (also known as Kiki and Kooky) has left Erin a Pink Crystal Ball. Shake it, ask a question, get an answer. Turns out? This Pink Crystal Ball can make wishes come true.
The Good: Does the Pink Crystal Ball make wishes come true? The first “wish” — and remember, like Jeopardy, it has to be phrased like a question — is the silly type of question three half-bored teenagers would ask a child’s toy. “Does [hot senior] Spencer Ridgely think I’m smexy?” The answer is “consider your fate to be sealed.” Shortly after, Spencer Ridgely, who shouldn’t even know Erin exists, calls her “smexy.” Which, by the way, is smart plus sexy.
Lindsay, who deals with being the target of a mean girl by buying voodoo dolls and other items from Ye Olde Metaphysical Shoppe, quickly believes that the Pink Crystal Ball actually works. Erin applies logical thinking (research and controlled experiments) to the question as she tries to figure out what it is and how it works and why Aunt Kiki gave it to her. Erin (sensible, practical, boring) discovers that she believes that wishes come true, just be careful what you wish for. Free will remains, and wishes can be undone. Wishes made for other people have their own danger. The role of magic is so subtle, that readers could argue that their is no magic.
It’s nice to have a book about fairly normal girls in a fairly normal situation. Erin is the smart one. Samantha is the sexy one, sexy enough to attract the attention of the lead singer of a band but still normal enough to have a crush on a boy who doesn’t like her back. Lindsay is the “Nicest Girl Ever” and, as mentioned, deals with being bullied by venting to her friends and seeking “metaphysical” solutions rather than actually doing anything.
Take away the Pink Crystal Ball, and Erin’s story is, well, as normal as she is. She works hard at school to try to go on a trip; she falls in love with a boy; she helps her friends with their problems; she deals with her aunt’s death. Just as Erin shouldn’t equate “normal” with “boring,” so, too, is her story not boring. Take the boy. At first Erin sees Jesse Cooper as a boy who is “going for a spiky punk rock thing that seems thirty years too late and might have been hot once but now is just… confusing.” Erin falls for Jesse (and who wouldn’t, he has the whole artsy guy in cool clothes thing going on) and also falls out of her preconceived notions about him and other people. Falling for a hot guy at a punk rock concert that involves crowd-surfing? Not boring at all. Her work at school involves art history which will lead some readers to wonder, wait, is that painting they are describing real? Where is the art museum closest to my house? And as for her friends’ problems, nothing is ever simple when it comes to boys and bullies.
But if you take away the Pink Crystal Ball, would anything have happened? Would Erin have had the courage to pursue Jesse? Would Samantha — well. I’m not telling you everything these girls do. But whether you believe in magic or not, the Pink Crystal Ball is the catalyst that makes things happen. Do Erin, Lindsay, and Samantha make their own fate? Does the Pink Crystal Ball and its promise of wish-fulfillment give the owner (and her friends) the confidence to act? Or, as Erin and her friends believe, are the coincidences to much to be anything other than magic?
I have never met Risa Green in real life (or pretend life, for that matter). I used to be a lawyer (Villanova Law School, corporate & employment law, almost ten years, OK, that answers all the questions that usually brings up) and I have a soft spot for “used to be lawyers,” like Green. In part because when I do meet former lawyers, I never have to explain why I left the law. Anyway, Green is a former lawyer. Which I love. And not even a lawyer-now-writer, but a lawyer-somethingelse-writer. Awesome.