After a failed attempt to steal a stuffed goat from the vice principal’s office ends in the vice principal getting pepper-sprayed and soon-to-be-thirteen-year-old Tara suspended for the final two weeks of the year (in an attempt to fit in with other kids her age, Tara refuses to give up her accomplices), Tara is exiled to the small town of Willow Falls to spend her summer. This is instead of going with her parents to Madagascar to study the lemur, something she had been looking forward to doing.
Tara’s luck goes from bad worse to when she’s robbed of the money her parents gave her for the summer and her mother’s prized iPod while on the train to the Willow Falls. Not wanting to admit the failure to her parents or her aunt and uncle, Tara takes matters into her own hands, stealing a rare issue of The Fantastic Four from her uncle’s collection and trying to sell it at the local curiosity shop. The mysterious proprietor refuses to buy it because she can’t pay what the comic is worth and she’s the one who sold to her uncle. Instead, Tara is forced to accept a deal where she collects 13 different items from the people of the town and brings them to the store before her thirteenth birthday. If she does that, all will be forgotten. If not, her uncle will be made aware of her theft.
Until this point, Tara has been the kind of girl who is willing to shrink into the background. Since her only experience of trying to fit in involved the theft of a goat, she’s not exactly eager to try fitting in again. But she soon finds a group of friends in Willow Falls who are not only willing to stand by her but also to help her find all thirteen items on the list and even to pull off something a bit more magical for the small town and Tara.
13 Gifts is a fun young adult novel with an intriguing first-person narrator and some interesting twists and turns. I listened to this one as an audio book and it helped the miles go by a bit more happily as I jogged and helped pass the time as I did chores around the house. Wendy Mass throws in some intriguing mysteries to Tara’s visit to Willow Falls and pays all of them off by the novel’s end.
From my understanding this is the third in a series of novels set in Willow Falls. And while there are callbacks to previous novels, the novel is self-contained enough that you can read it without feeling lost if you missed the first two. I will say that having listened to this one, I’m intrigued enough by the characters and the setting to want to try another in the series.