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Cover image for Better to wish : the first generation
Better to wish : the first generation


1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Scholastic Press, 2013.
Physical Description:
226 pages ; 22 cm.
Series title(s):
Number in series:
bk. 1.
In 1930 Abby Nichols is an eight-year-old girl growing up in Maine, but as the Depression deepens, and her mother dies, the responsibility of taking care of her family falls to her, and she has to put her dreams of going to college and becoming a writer on hold.


Call Number

On Order



Four generations. Four girls. One family.
An amazing new four-book series from Ann M. Martin.

In 1930, Abby Nichols is eight, and can't imagine what her future holds. The best things today would be having a dime for the fair, keeping her Pops from being angry, and saving up eighty-seven cents to surprise her little sister with a tea set for Christmas.

But Abby's world is changing fast. Soon there will be new siblings to take care of, a new house to move into, and new friends to meet. But there will also be good-byes to say and hard choices to make. As Abby grows older, how will she decide what sort of life will fit her best?

In this incredible new series, bestselling author Ann M. Martin brings the past and the present together one girlhood at a time and shows readers the way a family grows.

Author Notes

Ann Mathews Martin was born on August 12, 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey. She received a degree in elementary education and psychology from Smith College. She worked as a teacher, was an editor of children's books for both Bantam and Scholastic, and then became a full-time writer.

She is the author of several series including the Baby-sitters Club series, Baby-Sitters Little Sister series, California Diaries series, and Main Street series. Her other works include Ten Kids No Pets, Here Today, On Christmas Eve, and Rain Reign.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

School Library Journal Review

Gr 3-7-In a small town in 1930s Maine, Abby Nichols is happy in her small bungalow by the sea. Life is stable, but not without challenges; her father has a volatile temper and is biased against people who are different and her mother experiences bouts with sadness and sees ghosts from the past. However, Abby finds solace and pleasure in her longtime friendships with Orrin and Sarah. Despite the changing times and the onset of the Great Depression, the family furniture business begins to boom and her father proudly moves them to a big house in a bigger town, complete with hired help. Regretfully saying goodbye to the house and friends she's so fond of is only the beginning of a life of love and loss, triumph and struggle for Abby. This first in a series is sure to be a hit with children, especially fans of historical fiction. The descriptive writing transports them right back to this fascinating period in time when families grappled with economic challenges, civil-rights injustices, and everyday concerns. Martin writes with respect for her readers, piquing their interest in history and tackling real-life issues head-on, but with grace. The series will continue with three more books following the lives of Abby's daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter.-Amy Shepherd, St. Anne's Episcopal School, Middleton, DE (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Martin (Ten Rules for Living with My Sister) paints an authentic picture of white middle-class life during the 1930s in this first installment of the Family Tree series, tracing four generations of American girls. Growing up in Maine, eight-year-old Abby Nichols is the oldest daughter of an ambitious carpenter eager to realize the American Dream. But his prejudices are strong, too: he won't let Abby associate with her Irish Catholic neighbor, Orrin, among others. As Abby's father gains success, she enjoys more privileges, including a big new house in the city, but the family's newfound prosperity doesn't ease her outrage over her father's mistreatment of the less fortunate, including Abby's mentally impaired baby brother. Besides addressing the subject of bigotry, Martin underscores the powerlessness of wives and children at the time, revealing the positive and negative sides of tight family bonds. Abby grows into a resilient young woman (the novel spans more than 10 years), willing to speaks her mind and assert her independence. Martin incorporates universal themes into this period piece, and her poignant writing is sure to satisfy fans. Ages 8-12. Agent: Amy Berkower, Writers House. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

The typical historical fiction set during the Great Depression is a story of financial hardship -- but it's not lack of money that's the issue here, in this first of what will be four novels about succeeding generations of women. For eight-year-old Abby and her family, the decade of the 1930s begins with a rise in family fortunes and a move into town (from a modest cottage by the sea in tiny Lewisport, Maine, to a fancy house in a fashionable neighborhood). In a set of short vignettes, one or two per year, we follow Abby through her childhood to 1940 when, at eighteen, she makes the decision to leave home (an epilogue shows her in New York City, working at becoming a writer). As we receive these bulletins, we start to fill in the various strands of the story: an abusive, bigoted, controlling father; a mother prone to depression after a series of miscarriages; the accidental death of a best friend; the family tension caused by a disabled baby brother; issues of class; the poor boyfriend, the rich boyfriend, and the spare boyfriend. The approach here is plain, with lots of unapologetic telling, but the story has that addictive quality of the multigenerational family saga. Who has secrets, and who knows them? What alliances are formed? Who inherited what qualities? Who escaped? Who got lured back? What were the major consequences of minor actions? We're hooked. Bring on the next book, about Abby's daughter Dana, without delay. sarah ellis (c) Copyright 2013. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Martin delivers the first novel of a planned quartet, set to span four generations of daughters. In a brief prologue, 100-year-old Abby muses about time's swift passage and the kaleidoscopic aspect of memories--and secrets-- recalled from the past. Readers meet Abby Nichols at age 8 in 1930. She's big sister to Rose, good friend to Sarah and Orrin, and she's already expert at navigating the moods of her domineering father, Luther, and emotionally fragile mother, Nell. Ensuing chapters cover 15 years. Luther builds a prosperous business, moving the family from their small Maine seaside cottage to a fancy house in a larger town. Servants, store-bought dresses and Zander, the appealing boy next door don't dampen Abby's longing for the authentic friendships of life before. Her academic and social successes are pummeled by tragedy: Beloved Sarah drowns in an icy pond, and Nell breaks after Luther secretly institutionalizes their developmentally disabled 5-year-old son. While outwardly obeisant to her bigoted father--who cruelly forbids friendships, jobs and college--Abby builds a capacity for compassion that sustains her siblings. Eventually--and critically--she learns to use it to nurture herself. In a 1945 epilogue, Abby's a working girl in New York City--and Zander's on her doorstep. Some threads--whither Orrin?--are left dangling. But the deftly rendered theme of personal resilience, laced with romance and Americana, will earn this a deservedly wide audience. (Historical fiction. 8-12)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Abby's story begins in 1930, when she is eight years old and a traveling fair visits her village in Maine. While coping with her strict father's intolerance and her gentle mother's depression, she grows up chapter by episodic chapter, buying her sister a tea set for Christmas, losing her closest childhood friend, and feeling angry but helpless when her father institutionalizes her five-year-old brother, who has developmental disabilities. Eventually, Abby turns down the suitor her father insists that she marry and moves to New York City alone. With period attitudes woven seamlessly into the narrative, this historical novel reflects social norms during Abby's life. The individual scenes are vividly written and the overall story is engaging, but the 23-year time frame may limit its audience. However, in the Family Tree series, Martin plans to tell the stories of four girls from succeeding generations. Readers won over by Abby will happily look for her return as a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.--Phelan, Carolyn Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

FOR some girls who grew up in suburbia in the '80s and early '90s, the defining cultural touchstone of the time might be New Kids on the Block or "Saved by the Bell." For me, it's "The Baby-Sitters Club," Ann M. Martin's blockbuster middle-grade series. Years before we debated whether we were Carries or Mirandas, my friends and I spent a good amount of time deciding which of the members of the B.S.C. we most wanted to be. I saw myself as a combination of stylish Claudia, who hid candy from her strict parents; laid-back, California-cool Dawn; and Stacey, who had diabetes, glitter in her hair and New York City roots. I once tried the glitter thing: bad idea. I hid candy in my room, even though my parents didn't really care if I ate it. In truth, I was an unlikely hybrid of shy, sunburn-prone Mary Anne and bossy idea man Kristy, but that realization came later. "Family Tree," Martin's new planned series about young girls, has an intriguing conceit: through linked coming-of-age stories, she will bring to life four generations of women from one American family. In the first book, "Better to Wish," she introduces Abby Nichols, 8 years old when we meet her in 1930. Abby lives in the seaside town of Lewisport, Me. Her younger sister Rose is sassy and outspoken, while she herself is more obedient and mature. Though they annoy each other in the usual ways sisters do, the two are quite close. In "The Baby-Sitters Club," even the harshest characters weren't all that harsh (as a title like "Claudia and Mean Janine" might suggest). "Better to Wish" is much darker. Its tone has more in common with bittersweet classics like "Little Women" and "Bridge to Terabithia." Abby's father, a cruel social climber with a scary temper, forbids his daughters to consort with "non-whites," by which he means Catholics. Her mother is sweet but sad and unbalanced, spending more time mourning two children lost in infancy than raising the ones who survived. Abby goes to fairs, makes new friends and develops a strong interest in both boys and writing, but her story retains an undercurrent of sadness. On the book's first page, reflecting back as an old woman, she observes: "Pop once said it's a good thing we don't know what's around the corner. I didn't understand what he meant then, but I do now. It's better to wish than to know." By age 16, Abby has suffered tremendous losses, including the deaths of a dear friend and a parent. Martin excels at capturing the hopes and hardships of adolescent girls. Passages in which Abby confronts her grief are among the most powerful in the novel. Martin also establishes a strong sense of time and place, using words that may be unfamiliar to today's young readers: Icebox. Dungarees. Kewpie dolls. Her efforts are generally evocative and effective, but on occasion the historical elements feel slightly jarring, as if they are meant to provide a lesson rather than enhance the plot. It's hard to imagine, for example, a teenage girl in 1940 talking with friends about boys joining the Army, and making the casual observation: "We'll be in it soon enough. You know that. My brother told me that our government just approved the sale of surplus war material to Great Britain." In the Baby-Sitters Club, girls never really aged. One of the strengths of "Better to Wish" is that we see Abby grow, and have a sense of her looking back. "When I was 8 years old, an hour could seem like a week and a summer could seem like an eternity," she recalls. "But Mama would say to Rose and me, 'Time is flying.'" By the final pages, Abby is 22 and in the midst of a promising new adventure. The book ends on a cliffhanger, but readers can rest assured that in the next installment, her daughter will be there to tell the tale. J. Courtney Sullivan is the author of "Commencement" and "Maine." Her third novel, "The Engagements," will be published in June.