Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
Review by Gabrielle Morris and Thomas Richardson
What would a tree say if it could talk? Red the oak tree is over a hundred years old and it has many stories to tell. As the neighborhood’s resident Wishtree, Red hears the dreams of hundreds of people when, on Wishing Day each year, they tie their wishes to its branches like a new set of leaves. This year may be Red’s last Wishing Day. The woman who owns the land wants to cut it down. Red has decided on one last mission: fulfilling the wish of a new arrival, Samar. Her dream? A friend. Samar and her family are Muslim in a town without many diverse residents. Assisted by the animals who live in its branches, Red sets out to help Samar and her neighbor Stephen become friends. In a radical move, the old oak shares with them the story of the first Wishing Day.
This story holds the key to creating a harmonious community that welcomes outsiders and values its connections to nature. Part of the book’s appeal is a glimpse into the unlikely cooperation among Red’s resident animal families—owls, opossums, skunks, and raccoons. They try to help Red grant Samar’s wish and save Red from the land owner. The animal society functions well in spite of its diversity. In the end they stand together to protect Red from being cut down, shocking the people gathered on Wishing Day. By recognizing a bigger, collective purpose, the animals are able to protect their home. They provide a model for what cooperation looks like and how superficial our differences really are. If animals of completely different species can come together to help each other, why can’t we? Another theme the novel develops is that harmonious societies need to consider their connection to the environment. Red demonstrates the worth of even a single tree. A home to diverse animal residents and a focal point for the human community to come together, even a single tree shows why we need nature in our lives. By making Red the story’s protagonist, Wishtree gives representation to a nonhuman being that is often disregarded. Part of the book’s message is that no living being is disposable. Only by overcoming these notions, by treating every person and every living being with respect, can a society grow to truly live in harmony.
Overall, Wishtree is a touching story of a community overcoming discrimination and reconnecting to the natural world: it is a guide to living in harmony, with nature and with one another.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, Feiwel and Friends, 2017
Gabrielle Morris, artist, daydreamer, and undergraduate student of Product Design and Korean language.
Thomas Richardson: physics undergrad, passionate researcher, curious reader, and avid learner.