About the Book

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Years ago, a reclusive mega-bestselling children’s author quit writing under mysterious circumstances. Suddenly he resurfaces with a brand-new book and a one-of-a-kind competition, offering a prize that will change the winner’s life in this absorbing and whimsical novel.

“Clever, dark, and hopeful . . . a love letter to reading and the power that childhood stories have over us long after we’ve grown up.”—V. E. Schwab, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: Washington Post, She Reads, Bookreporter

Make a wish. . . .

Lucy Hart knows better than anyone what it’s like to grow up without parents who loved her. In a childhood marked by neglect and loneliness, Lucy found her solace in books, namely the Clock Island series by Jack Masterson. Now a twenty-six-year-old teacher’s aide, she is able to share her love of reading with bright, young students, especially seven-year-old Christopher Lamb, who was left orphaned after the tragic death of his parents. Lucy would give anything to adopt Christopher, but even the idea of becoming a family seems like an impossible dream without proper funds and stability.

But be careful what you wish for. . . .

Just when Lucy is about to give up, Jack Masterson announces he’s finally written a new book. Even better, he’s holding a contest at his home on the real Clock Island, and Lucy is one of the four lucky contestants chosen to compete to win the one and only copy.

For Lucy, the chance of winning the most sought-after book in the world means everything to her and Christopher. But first she must contend with ruthless book collectors, wily opponents, and the distractingly handsome (and grumpy) Hugo Reese, the illustrator of the Clock Island books. Meanwhile, Jack “the Mastermind” Masterson is plotting the ultimate twist ending that could change all their lives forever.

. . . You might just get it.
Read more
Close

Praise for The Wishing Game

“Meg Shaffer’s beautiful novel is part Willy Wonka, part magical realism, and wholly moving. It broke my heart and patched it over and reminded me that even as an adult, if you look hard enough, you can find the child still inside you.”—Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling co-author of Mad Honey

“Our list of must-read fiction books wouldn’t be complete without a novel that reminds readers of the power books hold between their pages. Meg Shaffer’s The Wishing Game may not contain any magic—this is a whimsical tale, but it’s grounded in reality—yet there’s something magical about the book.”Reader’s Digest, in “Best Fiction Books of 2023”

“A heartwarming, page-turning story of found family, love triumphing over indifference, and the world-changing power of a good book.”—Melissa Albert, New York Times bestselling author of The Hazel Wood

“A dreamy, inventive novel about how books can not only change lives but save them too. Full of the power of imagination, it’s one of my favorite books of the year.”—Sarah Addison Allen, New York Times bestselling author of Other Birds

“A magical ode to storytelling, imagination, and the mystery of the creative life . . . Wildly imaginative, clever, and inspiring, The Wishing Game is for anyone who has found light in a story just when they need it.”—Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Book of Flora Lea

“Meg Shaffer’s debut establishes her as one of the best. The Wishing Game sees the secret child hidden inside all of us, and it takes us on the thrilling, magical journey we all long for—where we might end up with everything we want but only if we risk it all.”—Gwenda Bond, New York Times bestselling author of Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds

“A work by turns clever, dark, and hopeful, Shaffer’s debut is a love letter to reading and the power childhood stories have over us long after we’ve grown up.”—V. E. Schwab, New York Times bestselling author of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

“Shaffer blends tragedy and triumph in a whimsical and gratifying debut about what makes a family. This is wish fulfillment in the best way.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A meditation on the power of hope when all else seems lost.”Kirkus Reviews
Read more
Close
Close
Excerpt

The Wishing Game

Chapter One

The school bell rang at two-thirty, and the usual stampede of little feet followed. Lucy took backpack duty and lunch box duty while Ms. Theresa, the class’s teacher, called out her usual warnings.

“Backpacks and lunch boxes and papers! If you forget anything, I’m not bringing it home to you and neither is Miss Lucy!” Some of the children listened. Some ignored her. Thankfully, this was kindergarten, so the stakes were pretty low.

Several of the kids hugged her on their way out the door. Lucy always relished these quick squishes, as they called them. They made the long draining days of being a teacher’s aide—refereeing playground fights, cleaning up after potty accidents, tying and retying a thousand shoelaces, and drying a thousand tears—worth the endless work.

When the classroom finally emptied, Lucy slumped in her chair. Luckily, she was off bus duty today, so she had a few minutes to recover.

Theresa surveyed the damage with a garbage bag in hand. All the round tables were covered in bits of construction paper, glue bottles left open and leaking. Fat pencils and fuzzy pipe cleaners were littered all over the floor.

“It’s like the Rapture,” Theresa said with a wave of her hands. “Poof. They’re gone.”

“And we’re left behind again,” Lucy said. “What did we do wrong?”

Something, obviously, because she was, at that very moment, prying a wad of gum off the bottom of the table for the second time that week. “Here, give me the garbage bag. That’s my job.” Lucy took the bag and dropped the gum into it.

“You sure you don’t mind cleaning up alone?” Theresa asked.

Lucy waved her hand to shoo her away. Theresa looked as exhausted as Lucy felt, and the poor woman still had a school committee meet­ing today. Anyone who thought teaching was easy had obviously never tried it.

“Don’t worry about it,” Lucy said. “Christopher likes to help.”

“I love when the kids are still young enough that you can trick them into doing chores because they think they’re playing.” Theresa dug her purse out of the bottom desk drawer. “I told Rosa she couldn’t mop the kitchen because that was for grown-ups, and she literally pouted until I let her do it.”

“Is that what being a mother is?” Lucy asked. “Pulling a long con on your kids?”

“Pretty much,” Theresa said. “I’ll see you in the morning. Tell Christopher hello.”

Theresa left, and Lucy glanced around at the classroom. It looked as if it had been hit by a rainbow-colored tornado. Lucy walked around every table with the trash bag in hand, scooping up sticky paper apples and sticky paper oranges, sticky paper grapes, and sticky paper lemons.

When she finished the cleanup, she had glue all over her hands, a paper strawberry stuck to her khaki slacks, and a crick in her neck from bending over the short tables for half an hour. She needed a long ten-thousand-degree shower and a glass of white wine.

“Lucy, why do you have a banana in your hair?”

She turned around and saw a slight wide-eyed black-haired boy standing in the doorway staring at her. She reached up and felt paper. Good thing she’d been practicing self-control for a couple of years as a teacher’s aide, or she would have let loose a string of creative expletives.

Instead, and with as much dignity as she had remaining, she peeled the paper banana out of her hair.

“The question is, Christopher, why don’t you have a banana in your hair?” She tried not to think about how long the banana had been stuck there. “All the cool kids are doing it.”

“Oh,” he said, rolling his hazel eyes. “I guess I’m not cool.”

She stuck the banana gently onto the top of his head. His dark hair had just enough of a wave that it always looked as if he’d been hanging upside down for a few hours. “Voilà, now you’re cool.”

He shook off the banana and slapped it onto his worn blue backpack. He ran his hands through his hair, not to settle it down but to refluff it. She loved this weird kid of hers. Sort of hers. Someday hers.

“See? I’m not cool,” he said.

Lucy pulled out one of the tiny chairs and sat down, then pulled out a second one for Christopher. He sat with a tired groan.

“Are too. I think you’re cool. Sock hunt.” She grabbed his ankles and put his feet on her knees for her daily archaeological excavation into his shoes to dig out his socks. Did he have weirdly skinny ankles or unusually slippery socks?

“You don’t count,” Christopher said. “Teachers have to think all kids are cool.”

“Yes, but I’m the coolest teacher’s aide, so I know these things.” She gave each sock one final tug up his leg.

“You aren’t.” Christopher dropped his feet onto the floor and clutched his blue backpack to his stomach like a pillow.

“I’m not? Who beat me? I’ll fight her in the parking lot.”

“Mrs. McKeen. She throws pizza parties every month. But they say you’re the prettiest.”

“That’s exciting,” she said, though she didn’t flatter herself. She was the youngest teacher’s aide, and that’s about all she had going for her. She was, at best, average in every other way—shoulder-length brown hair, wide brown eyes that always got her carded, and a wardrobe that hadn’t been updated in years. New clothes required money. “I’d better get a certificate that says that on Award Day. You have any homework?”

Lucy stood up and started cleaning again, wiping down the tables and chairs with Lysol. She hoped the answer was no. He didn’t get much attention from his busy foster parents, and she tried to make up for what he didn’t get at home.

“Not a lot.” He threw his backpack onto the table. Poor thing, he looked so tired. He had dark circles under his eyes, and his shoulders drooped with exhaustion. A seven-year-old child shouldn’t have eyes like a world-weary detective working a particularly grisly murder case.

She stood in front of him, cleaning bottle dangling from a finger, arms crossed. “You okay, kiddo? You sleep any last night?”

He shrugged. “Bad dreams.”

Lucy sat back down next to him. He laid his head on the table.

She laid her head on the table and met his eyes. They were pink around the edges like he’d been trying not to cry all day.

“You want to tell me what you dreamed about?” she asked. She kept her voice soft and low and gentle. Kids with hard lives deserved gentle words.

Some people like to talk about how resilient kids are, but these were people who’d forgotten how hard everything hit you when you were a kid. Lucy still had bruises on her own heart from the knocks she’d gotten in childhood.

Christopher rested his chin on his chest. “Same thing.”

Same thing meant the ringing phone, the hallway, the door open, his parents on the bed seemingly sound asleep but with their eyes wide open. If Lucy could have taken his bad dreams into her own brain, she would have done it to give him a good night’s sleep.

She put her hand on his small back and patted it. His shoulders were thin and delicate as moth wings.

“I still have bad dreams, too, sometimes,” she said. “I know how you feel. Did you tell Mrs. Bailey?”

“She told me not to wake her up unless it’s an emergency,” he said. “You know, with the babies.”

“I see,” Lucy said. She didn’t like that. She appreciated that Christopher’s foster mother was taking care of two sick babies. Still, somebody had to take care of him too. “You know I meant it when I said you can call me if you can’t sleep. I’ll read to you over the phone.”

“I wanted to call you,” he said. “But you know . . .”

“I know,” she said. Christopher was terrified of phones, and she didn’t really blame him. “That’s okay. Maybe I can find an old tape recorder and record myself reading you a story, and you can play it next time you have trouble sleeping.”

He smiled. It was a small smile, but the best things came in the smallest packages.

“You want to take a nap?” she asked. “I’ll put down a mat for you.”

“Nah.”

“You want to read?”

He shrugged again.

“You want to . . .” She paused, tried to think of anything that would distract him from his dreams. “. . . help me wrap a present?”

That got his attention. He sat straight up and grinned. “Did you sell a scarf?”

About the Author

Meg Shaffer
Meg Shaffer is the USA Today bestselling author of The Lost Story and The Wishing Game, which was a Book of the Month finalist for Book of the Year, a Reader’s Digest and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and has been translated into 21 languages. Meg holds an MFA in TV and Screenwriting from Stephens College. She lives in Kentucky with her husband and two cats. The cats are not writers. More by Meg Shaffer
Decorative Carat