Book Review: The Wish List
Colfer is better known for the Artemis Fowl series, which I have to say I have not been able to get into. Apart from being a boy named for a Greek goddess (grrrrrrr!!!), as of the end of the second book the title character seems to be a bit of a psychopath whose main redeeming quality is his love for his father. Perhaps he will gain more of a moral compass and more humanity as the series goes on, but I don’t know if I have the patience. The Wish List, while dealing with children and teenagers in the shadowy world of petty crime in Ireland, seems to be a horse of a different color. While “Belch” the main antagonist, is a thug and a brute, Meg Finn, the protagonist, is appealing in much the same way as Lyra in His Dark Materials - feisty and rebellious but with her own inner sense of decency that comes out from the first scene onward, however much she tries to hide it.
At the beginning of the book Meg, Belch and Belch’s malevolent pit bull Raptor are breaking into the flat of a pensioner, Lowrie McCall, who catches them and is attacked by the dog. Meg begs Belch to call off Raptor, which he does, but while trying to escape all three are killed in an explosion. Belch, his personality merged with that of his dog, goes straight to hell, but Meg, presumably because she has not truly set out on the path of evil and also because of her compassion for the old man, finds herself evenly balanced between good and evil. She is sent back to help McCall, who only has a short time to live, fulfill his “wish list” of things he wants to do or set right before he dies, Belch is assigned by the “other side” to stop her, and the race for Meg’s soul is on.
Over the course of the novel, Meg and Lowrie, who start out in an antagonistic, mutually suspicious relationship of convenience, come to truly respect and even love each other as, through the quest to fulfill the wish list, they learn more about each other’s previous lives, vulnerabilities and regrets. I truly came to care about both characters and to cheer them on in their journey.
In addition, there are several other characters who, although they do not grow and change, either to the briefness of their appearance or their status as denizens of hell, are wonderfully and comically drawn. Examples of the latter are Beelzebub (“Don’t call me ‘Bub!”), portrayed as a resentful and nervous second-in-command to Satan; St. Peter, as suave and smug as any doorkeeper at a prestigious hotel; and Elph, a hologram created by a Japanese computer programmer (and yes, evidently Satan has the best technicians, as well as the best entertainers), to guide the incorrigibly stupid Belch/Raptor in his mission.