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If you could have one wish granted, what would it be? To play baseball with the New York Yankees? To arrange a lifesaving but astronomically costly surgery for your mother? To fulfill your dying neighbor’s heartfelt desire for his community to come together?

Much of the time, longings like those aren’t satisfied. But this year, NBC’s new hit series “Three Wishes” is out to change that reality. Hosted by five-time Grammy winner Amy Grant, the show is like an itinerant fairy godmother, traveling from town to town and granting the wishes of people in need.

But is “Three Wishes” just another slickly edited, manipulative reality show that tugs on our heartstrings to sell commercial time? Or is it a new breed of reality programming genuinely modeling compassion to the unfortunate in our society?

Amy Grant, one of the most famous Christian recording artists of the past 20 years, says the show reflects her own Christian convictions. “Those are real stories,” she says. “The people are not actors. These are not people you see in other reality shows who want to be on television. They are just people who are at a crossroads in their life and need some help.”

With the help of NBC, corporate America, and, most significantly, the communities in which the recipients of the wishes reside, people’s lives are being transformed from despair to hopefulness.

Each one-hour show begins with Grant and her partners, Carter Oosterhouse (from “Trading Spaces”), Eric Strommer (from “Clean Sweep”), and Diane Mizota (from “Trading Spaces: Boys vs. Girls”) setting up a “wish tent” in small towns such as Le Mars, Iowa, and Senora, Calif. Folks from the town are given the opportunity to line up and ask for a wish to be granted. Three wishes are chosen, and the team of “wish makers” attempts to grant them within the week (or at least start the process of wish fulfillment). Each show ends with Grant giving a free, emotionally charged community concert at which final wishes are granted to various townsfolk involved in the episode.

In the show’s pilot, which aired Sept. 23, 11-year-old Abby Castleberry’s aunt found her fondest wish fulfilled. Abby, a top athlete, needed surgery to reconstruct her skull after a car accident. Not only does “Three Wishes”send Abby to the country’s top doctors, they also build a giant playhouse for her—complete with simulated snowboard video machines and an indoor swimming pool.

One of the elements that makes “Three Wishes” compelling is the passion and zeal Grant brings as principal wish giver. Her blue-jeans-and-apple-pie personality give her instant accessibility, like a dear old friend. She listens with empathy to heart-rending stories. In her soft Southern drawl she encourages hurting people. She offers hope in a decidedly unscripted and genuine fashion. (Be sure to have a box of tissues handy—even the most hardened cynic will be blubbering by show’s end.)

The show’s producers, Andrew Glassman and Jason Raff—veteran reality show creators—know all the tricks of the trade, of course. There are special camera shots to ensure quality publicity for the show’s major sponsor, Ameriquest. Moving narrations by the show’s participants enhance the high drama of a surgery or a judge’s decision to grant an adoption.

What makes “Three Wishes” unique in the sea of reality shows—most of which present wanna-be actors competing for a big cash prize—is that the community where wish receivers reside is asked to participate in helping wishes come true.

The hope is that the show will help usher in a new era in reality television—one of people giving rather than receiving. But Amy Grant’s fondest wish is that long after the show leaves town, the spirit of giving and helping will continue in the communities touched by “Three Wishes.”

In Her Own Words

In August, Amy Grant spoke to Christian media folks, including Ron DeBoer of The Banner, about “Three Wishes.” Here, in her own words, are her thoughts about the show:

How did you get involved in this project? Is this a detour for you? Are you going to be on TV a lot from now on?

I’m not looking for a career in TV. My sole reason for being on TV is this project. Andrew Glassman, the producer, contacted my manager and said I would be a great host. My manager read the synopsis for the show and told me that she couldn’t think of a more appropriate show for me. I was in the middle of reading about how important it is to design a life mission statement. I was in the process of designing my own when I got the call from my manager. I was chaperoning my daughter’s choir to Los Angeles, and my manager says NBC would like to interview me NOW, but it has to be in Los Angeles. I said, “I’m going there tomorrow.” It was really like following the bread crumb trail the way it all lined up.

Being a singer, do you feel equipped to do this job?

I’ve never in my life felt so equipped for a job—ever. People have always shared with me their life’s story. Because of the kind of music I’ve written, from the time I was 17, people have felt comfortable opening up their lives to me. These conversations are as familiar to me as waking up in the morning and going to bed at night.

To what extent do your personal convictions have an influence on those who are actually selected to receive their wishes?

I’m not part of the selection of the wishes. We all lobby for people who come to us; there are four of us who take the wishes, and I take copious notes. As the program goes on, they will be looking for variety. We hope that whatever story we choose, the community will respond.

What have you learned through the stories you hear?

One woman came to me and said she wanted a complete body overhaul, and I said, “Let’s get real; time is ticking on all of us and there’s only so much we can do.” I said, “What’s your real wish?” She was quiet for a minute, then she said, “I want my husband to find me beautiful.” You have to hear beyond the words of what a person is saying.

How do you answer critics who say the whole show is to make viewers cry, that it’s all manipulative?

When we filmed the pilot in Senora, Calif., we said that whether or not our pilot is ever picked up by NBC, what we’ve done in these towns is good. NBC is still footing the bill for Abby Castleberry. And they would have even if the show did not make it to air. It’s an amazing use of network dollars and sponsorship money to do amazing philanthropic things in people’s lives.

Were any good deeds done in private, away from the camera?

It’s my hope that people will watch this show and re-invest themselves in others. People in the towns just began doing things for each other privately. You can’t believe the ripple effect. It’s my hope people are re-energized to help one another.

Fiction for Adults

A Slight Trick of the Mind

by Mitch Cullin
reviewed byPhilip Christman

We can’t seem to let go of Sherlock Holmes. Virginia Woolf complained about the “unreality” of Arthur Conan Doyle’s great characters, but actually it’s Holmes’s surreally thorough devotion to logic that makes him so “real” to readers. It’s a sort of literary special effect—or, as the title of Mitch Cullin’s fine new novel has it, A Slight Trick of the Mind. In three interwoven plots, the 93-year-old Holmes, beset with memory loss, tries to solve one last mystery for a man whose long-lost father once consulted with Holmes. Meanwhile, Holmes himself becomes a sort of surrogate father to a 14-year-old boy who shares his love of beekeeping. The novel ultimately sends Holmes to postwar Japan, where this sagging pillar of Victorian certitude tries to make sense of the 20th century’s epic slaughter. Holmes must finally accept the limits of his rationalism, in a story as eerily moving as it is unconventional. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday)

Young Adult Fiction

The Penderwicks

A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

by Jeanne Birdsall
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

The Penderwicks—four girls between the ages of 4 and 12, and their wise, if somewhat absentminded, father—rent, sight unseen, a cottage in the Berkshire Mountains. To their surprise, the cottage is part of an estate named Arundel, graced with a magnificent home and splendid gardens. The girls befriend Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s bitter owner. Though the girls’ only desire is to enjoy adventures with their new friend, Mrs. Tifton repeatedly hampers their plans. In time they learn the reasons for her behavior, and together they give Jeffrey the courage to make choices that will liberate him from his mother’s unfair and idealistic expectations. This heartwarming juvenile novel—laced throughout with humor, wisdom, and a profound understanding of children—deals subtly with the issues of death, abandonment, and allowing children to develop their gifts. (Knopf)


What Comes After the Blues

by Magnolia Electric Co.
reviewed byMichael Buma

The turbine that powers Magnolia Electric is singer/songwriter Jason Molina’s gentle voice, complemented best by the sparsely deployed strands of guitar, fiddle, and percussion that characterize songs like “Northstar Blues” and “Hammer Down.” What Comes After the Blues considers the possibility of faith against a fairly standard bevy of existential complaints: heartache, inequality, and benighted world-weariness. Molina cites Hank Williams’s love song to Jesus, “I Saw the Light,” as the album’s guiding principle: stretched to its extent the metaphor encapsulates both the possibility of faith and the tremulous human ground in which it must take root. (Secretly Canadian)


reviewed bySandy Swartzentruber

IMDb bills itself as “Earth’s largest movie database,” and from the look of things, it’s and accurate claim. Visit this comprehensive website to puruse movie news and reviews, find showtimes and locations for hard–to–spot independent films, view trailers, get information on upcoming film festivals, access plot summaries, chat about your favorite flicks, track DVD releases—the list goes on. You can even purchase movie tickets from your local theater here. Especially intriguing is the “Ask a Filmmaker” column, where screenwriters, directors, and cinematographers shoot the breeze about their craft. True film buffs beware—once you enter IMDb, you might forget to come up for air.


Orion Magazine

reviewed by Philip Christman

Since its recent relaunch, this lush quarterly magazine with an ecological theme has become unmissable. Deep coverage of worldwide environmental issues shares space with gorgeous photography, works of visual art, and poems and essays by some of the wisest writers now walking the planet (Wendell Berry, Terry Tempest Williams, Janisse Ray, David James Duncan). The photography and layout remind readers of the beauty of the non-urbanized world, while the content urgently, eloquently reminds us of earth’s fragility. No mainstream newsmagazine has anything so important to say; no activist magazine says it so beautifully.

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