Tara’s time in Willow Falls is full of weirdness, fun, friendship, and life lessons as she is tasked by a mysterious woman, Angelina, with finding thirteen items before her thirteenth birthday. Tara accepts the challenge for a variety of reasons, and she’s fortunate to have made some good friends in her short time in Willow Falls, so she has plenty of help along the way.
13 GIFTS is the third book in Wendy Mass’s 11 Birthdays series, and the series features likeable and quirky middle school students who have to navigate some difficulties surrounding a milestone birthday. I’ve read the second book in the series, FINALLY, and really enjoyed Rory, that book’s protagonist. I was happy to see her appear again in 13 GIFTS, and characters from the first book also have roles in Tara’s misadventures. Central to all three books is the town of Willow Falls and the wise/stern/kind/magical Angelina.
Tara’s relationships with friends and family are believable and make her relatable to readers. David, a boy who is also nearing his thirteenth birthday, is a great character too, and his role as Tara’s love interest is innocent, age appropriate, and perfectly drawn. In some respects, the kids in the book are almost too nice to be believable, but perhaps that’s part of the magic of Willow Falls.
The book is recommended for ages 8 to 12, and Mass writes wonderfully for that age range. I suggest the books be read in order—I haven’t read the first one in the series, and I wish I had before picking this one up. Younger readers in particular might struggle to put everything together if they attempt this book as a standalone novel.
Likeable and quirky characters