Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese used to live with her parents in Raleigh, North Carolina. But with her father in jail for fighting and her mother showing little interest in her, a social worker took her away to live with her aunt Bertha and uncle Gus in the Appalachian town of Colby. Charlie is unhappy living and going to school there, and she misses her older sister Jackie, who was allowed to stay with a friend in Raleigh. But then she befriends Howard Odom, a boy with a limp, and Wishbone, a stray dog Charlie decides to adopt.
Wish contains examples of:
- Calling Parents by Their Name: Charlie refers to her father by his nickname, Scrappy.
- Commonality Connection: Charlie sympathizes with Wishbone because she, too, feels like a stray nobody wants.
- Copycat Mockery: In Sunday school, T.J. Rainey walks after Howard, mimicking his limp. Howard sees him, but doesn't do anything. Charlie is so angry that she shoves T.J. He shoves her back, and they're about to start fighting when a teacher breaks them up.
- Embarrassing First Name: Charlie's full first name is Charlemagne, which she thinks is a stupid name for a girl.
- Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Bertha, a respected member of her community, and Charlie's mama Carla, who can't care for her kids and shows little interest in anyone but herself.
- From Stray to Pet: Charlie and Howard set up a trap for Wishbone in Charlie's garage baited with meat. After they capture him, Wishbone adapts to life as a pet surprisingly quickly.
- Good Parents: When Charlie visits Howard's home, she's amazed by how loving the parents are and how happy all the boys seem.
- Holding Hands: Gus and Bertha hold hands on the back deck, to Charlie's surprise. She's never seen her parents hold hands.
- It's All About Me: During Charlie and her mama's first phone conversation in months, Mama complains about Jackie moving out and asks Charlie to consider her feelings, while showing no consideration at all for Charlie's. Then she decides on a whim to move to another town, despite the fact that Charlie is supposed to move back in with her soon.
- Missing Mom: When Jackie was seven and Charlie was an infant, Mama left them with Scrappy and went to live with Bertha and Gus to start a new life. She went back after a few months when Bertha made her opinion of people who abandon their children clear.
- Parental Neglect: Charlie's mama is a Sleepy Depressive who spends most of her time crying in bed, making little effort to take care of Charlie and Jackie.
- Tropey, Come Home: At the creek behind the Odoms' house, Wishbone runs off after a squirrel and disappears. Gus, Charlie, and Howard all search for him. He returns on his own a few days later. Charlie finds him waiting for her in the front yard.
- Wish Upon a Shooting Star: Charlie has been making daily wishes since fourth grade. She wishes on stars, four-leaf clovers, ladybugs, and dandelions, among other things. Her wish is for her family to not be broken. Although her original family never reunites, she realizes she got her wish by having Gus and Bertha as her family.