Due to another huge lapse in judgment, Tara finds herself beholden to perhaps the strangest person of all: Angelina D’Angelo. If Tara can’t collect thirteen mysterious objects for the old woman in time for her rapidly approaching thirteenth birthday, the consequences will be REALLY BAD. Like losing-her- immortal-soul kind of bad. And that’s just for starters! Tara’s adventures take her and her new friends to places they’d never thought they’d find, some in the real world, and a lot deep inside themselves.
With a big dose of birthday magic, 13 Gifts will make readers laugh, think, and possibly even hum a show tune or two. Because, in Willow Falls, anything’s possible, and nothing is as it seems.
Welcome back to Willow Falls! This time around, we meet Tara right as she is about to get into major trouble. Through a series of not quite believable events, Tara is sent off to spend the summer with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, Emily in the strange town of Willow Falls. While there, she gets herself into even more trouble and thanks to her actions, has to locate and collect 13 seemingly random objects for Angelina (you know the type. The lady that everyone knows, but no one really knows anything about. The slightly crazy woman who seems to show up everywhere and yet you can never find her when you need her. And who may or may not be magical, you're just not sure). Thankfully, for the first time in her life, Tara makes friends that help her on her journey and along the way she learns a lot about herself, her family and her past.
13 Gifts is the third in the Willow Falls series. While it almost works as a stand alone, I do recommend reading 11 Birthdays and Finally beforehand (it's been years since I read the first two, so I was a little sketchy on remembering the details). I enjoyed this book because it introduces some elements of magic and mystery without being a book about magic or a mystery. Tara is more or less your average kid and as a reader, you can relate to her. She has moved around many times in her life, so she doesn't really have friends. She has a celebrity crush. She has insecurities. She's exactly what you'd expect from a twelve year old. But throughout the book, she learns how to let people become important in her life and how to make friends. She learns that she can't do everything on her own and how to ask for help. She gains confidence and learns how to stand up for herself.
I recently started the next book, The Last Present, and I'm really enjoying this series. Even though it's a little unbelievable how in control these kids are (I'm making the assumption that Angelina works her magic so that the parents are hands off when they need to be, otherwise their amount of freedom drives me a little crazy), it's great to see how the kids in this series work together. Wendy Mass has created some of the strongest friendships I've encountered in books and it's great to see these kids rallying together to help their friends. It seems like no matter the problem, the kids take care of each other and I think that this is a great example for readers in how they can live their own lives. It's not often that I encounter character that I see as good role models for kids so I appreciate that element of her writing. This series is great for elementary school age kids. I see it appealing more to girls, but can see boys liking it too.