Smith weaves emotional tension into this spiritual story of leukemia and baseball.
A nine-year-old boy suffering from leukemia makes a selfless wish that challenges his father, in Jake Smith’s moving Wish. Their shared love of baseball adds depth to the father-son relationship.
Smith introduces his first work of fiction with the dramatic moment when James McConnell learns that his son, Aaron, first diagnosed with cancer at age five, is again critically ill. James and his wife, Emily, had dared to believe that Aaron’s five months of complete remission would continue indefinitely. Instead, Aaron, his parents, and his six-year-old sister, Elizabeth, move into a family suite at a pediatric cancer research hospital in southern central Michigan, where he faces more aggressive treatment.
The family’s emotional tension about Aaron’s illness looms large in this story. When James and Emily meet with Aaron’s new oncologist, Dr. Barna, to discuss his chances for recovery, the doctor tells them that finding a bone marrow donor match for the boy’s rare tissue type is the best chance for his long-term survival. “Define long-term,” Emily responds, wanting the most definitive prognosis the doctor can’t give.
An effective use of analogy heightens the book’s poignant message. For example, when Aaron begins to improve, the family attends a Detroit Tigers home game. James, who abandoned his dream of playing professional baseball to marry Emily, shares with Aaron the thrill of walking onto an major-league field before the game starts. A religious man, James describes the space as a “cathedral” and compares the middle of the field to a “sanctuary.” Smith writes, “He felt so small, so insignificant, and everything around him seemed so … holy.”
Smith convincingly shows Emily and James’s devotion to each other and their children.
A revealing moment occurs just as the family prepares to leave the hospital after Aaron’s
treatment has ended. Concerned about Aaron’s lack of enthusiasm for feeling better and going home, James reminds his son that he is a cancer survivor. His son replies, “No, Dad, that’s just it. I’m not a survivor. I’m just … surviving.”
Smith’s competent prose style and flawless editing reflect his professional experience as a magazine editor and author of nonfiction articles and books. A well-researched story, Wish offers an insightful look into the perils of childhood leukemia. While the focus on baseball may not interest some readers, this story of a family struggling to overcome their son’s devastating illness holds universal appeal.
Read an Excerpt
By Jake Smith, Caleb Sjogren
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2014 Jason A. Smith
All rights reserved.
JAMES MCCONNELL LOVED THIS MOMENT, when the sinking, early May sun transformed the high school baseball field into Yankee Stadium, gilding the pitcher's mound and bases and each blade of moistening grass. With a golden brush, it painted over the field's blemishes, smoothed the pockmarks around third base, greened the scrubby grass in shallow center field, and refilled the crater consuming the right-handed batter's box. Everything softened and melted together in that evening glow, and the high school's small field, carved out of a northern Michigan swamp, became a place where profes sionals played.
The slanting sun sharpened his concentration. In the first base coach's box, he bent forward and rested his hands on his knees, legs spread wide, and studied the opposing left-handed pitcher. The teenager had just walked the leadoff batter in the bottom of the fourth inning on four straight pitches, and James recognized the pressure clenching in the pitcher's jaw. For most seventeen-year-olds, pressure meant mistakes. And James spotted one brewing in how the kid, lips mashed together in frustration, took far too long getting the sign from the catcher. James figured a wild pitch was coming. That, or a medium fastball right down the middle, a perfect pitch to hit. Either way, he told the runner on first to be ready. Sure enough, the next pitch skipped in the dirt, low and away to the left-handed batter, but the catcher blocked it, keeping the runner at first base.
James straightened, and in the few seconds between pitches, he marveled again at the evening sunshine and how it always seemed to make his baseball career feel complete—from high school star at eighteen, to promising college standout at twenty, to part-time assistant high school coach at thirty-four. It created a moment that, unlike many others in his life, felt perfect.
The moment shattered.
The runner, shuffling back to first base after the pitch in the dirt, said, "hey, Coach Mac," and flicked his head toward the first base dugout.
A burgundy SUV streaked down a paved No Vehicles Allowed footpath that wound down from the school and around the track and softball diamonds. Greg's car. A hand shot out the driver's window with a frantic wave. The SUV dipped, threatening to veer down the grassy slope toward the baseball diamond, but the driver fought back, straightened it out, and jammed the brakes. Tires screeched.
James sprinted off the field.
He knew why Greg, the school's athletic director, was there, and that perfect moment he treasured vanished. The golden light, the performance of his team, the eternal hope of an unlikely state title, his love of baseball—none of it mattered. Not anymore.
The cancer was back.
Excerpted from WISH by Jake Smith, Caleb Sjogren. Copyright © 2014 Jason A. Smith. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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