The Decoding of Lana Morris -- Laura and Tom McNeal

With each new book, I've enjoyed the McNeals more and more.

Lana Morris has been in the system for some time now:

Six months ago, on Lana's first day at the Winterses', she called her caseworker, Hallie Simpson, and without bothering to say hello announced that there'd been a mistake.  "And not a little one," Lana said.  "As mistakes go, Hallie, this one is stellar."

Hallie in her low, rich, mellifluent voice said, "Hello, Lana.  And how are you?  Are you well?  Because I hope you're well."

Lana likes Hallie.  She is the best caseworker Lana has ever had and one of the few adults she can trust.  Still, Lana said, "You put me in a home for retards is how I am, Hallie."

The Decoding of Lana MorrisBut now, six months later, Lana has become somewhat comfortable in the Winters household.  She hates her foster mother (and the feeling is quite definitely mutual), but she's grown to care for the SNKs (Special Needs Kids) and her feelings for her foster father go even further than that -- she's in love with him.

She has a sort-of friend in the boy next door, but his horrible friends refuse to let her become one of the gang.  During an outing with that group (they make her ride in the trunk and none of them acknowledge her except Chet), she wanders into an old curio shop.  An antique drawing set catches her eye, and she impulsively pays for it with the only money she has on hand -- a two dollar bill that once belonged to her father.

Turns out that she was right -- the drawing set is a special one.  Everything that she draws comes true.  Now, she knows her fairy tales -- she knows that wishes don't often turn out right.  But forewarned is forearmed, right?  And she doesn't have the usual measly three wishes -- there are thirteen pages in the kit.  Thirteen pages, thirteen wishes.  Plenty to help out the SNKs and fix her life.  Right? 

I couldn't put it down. I was especially impressed with Veronica Winters, foster mother and Ice Queen.  She always comes first.  She's always willing to step on someone else to get what she wants.  She's a strong person (but unfortunately not a good one -- there's no Big Misunderstanding or Redemption here), yet we sometimes see her in moments of indecision and doubt.  She's mean, but she's not stupid.  Above all, she's perceptive.  Mean and perceptive -- not a pleasant combination, but an interesting one.

While some of the darker aspects of the story (Lana's relationship with her foster father, the abandonment of the kids, etc.) could have made for an extremely heavy story, the magical realism gave it an entirely different feel.  The use of the present tense makes it feel even more dreamlike.  It was a light read without being trivial -- and after I finished it, I found that it stayed with me.