Y’all it’s official- As teased in my June TBR post, I’m a professional reader! This is my first book review after joining NetGalley– the first of what I hope is many! I’ve already learned so much from this experience- today I researched standards of the YA genre, read about how to write a better book review, laid plans to be more intentional when reading in the future and definitely better about taking notes… I’m excited to start this new chapter in my bibliophile life.
Title: As You Wish
Author: Chelsea Sedoti
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Date: January 2, 2018
Genre: Young Adult & Fantasy
As You Wish tells the story of Eldon Wilkes, a seventeen year old high schooler who WAS the most popular guy in school and the best player on the football team. WAS, that is, until he and his classmates hit their senior year. You see, to the outside world, Eldon’s hometown (Madison, Nevada) appears to be a your average small town where nothing exciting ever happens. But this is only because the citizens of Madison have worked very hard to keep the town’s secret; Madison has a cave that grants wishes to it’s citizens. To be specific- one wish per person on their eighteenth birthday. People wish for money, love, and (unfortunately for Eldon) popularity and football talent. Not only is Eldon losing status at school and on the field, but despite having 18 years to think about it, he has no idea what to wish for. Eldon is pulled in many directions by his parents, community and friends. With 25 days left to decide, Eldon does a lot of soul searching and begins a research project documenting other people’s wishes and the consequences of them.
The book has 39 fairly short chapters that are organized into one of two formats. Most chapters focus on one day in the life of Eldon as he counts down to his eighteenth birthday (these are told in first person with Eldon as the narrator). This effectively builds suspense and tension as the reader knows the climax of the story creeps ever closer and the pressure for Eldon to decide what his wish will be will soon reach its boiling point. Interspersed throughout the novel are background chapters that feature one of the other Madison residents and details about the wish they made when they turned eighteen as well as the aftermath of their wish. The background chapters are interesting and often used as a tool to introduce other topics (sexuality, drug use, carelessness, etc.). More than anything else in the story, they reveal additional information about the mythology of wishing in Madison, something I very much looked forward to. I don’t believe we were ever told the narrator of the background chapters (they are told in second person- always unique, fun, and hard to get right), but I just assumed it was part of Eldon’s writing project he embarks on to help make a decision about his wish.
I actually really like the cover art and think it is a great fit for the book. The cover shows a person standing outdoors, shining a light up into the night sky. This makes me think of “wishing upon a star,” which is not how the wishes work in the book, but still works to draw readers in and convey the wishing concept that is central to the story. Flashlights and candles are used throughout the book by the characters, either to attend their parties out by the hot springs or to descend into the wish cave on their big day, so the shining light also makes sense. You also get a sense from the cover that the person is out in the middle of nowhere, which accurately reflects the setting of Madison.
When I went to do additional background research for this book, I found very little information. That is because Chelsea Sedoti is a newer author (her debut novel, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, just came out in January 2017!). In an article promoting that book, Chelsea talks about the stories she wants to tell as an author. “It’s really a coming-of-age story, first and foremost. Every book I ever write will probably be the same way. Everything that happens isn’t quite as important as the personal journey that the characters are going on.” I think As You Wish fits that description to a T, so Miss Sedoti achieved that goal if nothing else.
I originally intended to give this book a more negative review, but after thinking about it for awhile, I’ve changed my mind. I put myself in the mind frame of a teenager (the intended audience for this book) and thought about the story again. By shifting my perspective, I was able to see how this book actually works pretty well. I will say that unlike some other recent young adult novels, I do not think this one has the crossover appeal to charm adults as well as it does teens. Let’s dive in a bit more-
Things that work:
- Well executed and relevant themes
I thought there were many themes throughout the novel that were well formed and would resonate with teenagers today even if they can’t specifically relate to being able to make a magical wish:
-Happiness isn’t something you can just wish for, you have to earn it or make it for yourself
-High school is often when people peak, especially in a small town
-Teenagers feel an insane amount of pressure to figure out their entire lives without knowing the full consequences or how their decisions will affect the rest of their life
-Issues of who the young characters are, who they should be, what they should and shouldn’t do—that we all deal with (especially as teenagers or when exploring our identities), in our own ways.
It all felt a little Breakfast Clubby to me. There was the jock. The brain. The do-gooder. The princess. At first this bothered me, but then I realized that use of these archetypes builds context and helps the reader situate themselves in the social structure of the story. YA is known for quick moving plots and this was a good device to quickly get readers on the same page.
I struggled with the simplicity of the conversations had between characters. It felt somewhat cliche and unrealistic. I thought “no one actually talks this way or says things like this.” But then, again, I realized this is 29 year old me making this judgement and a younger reader would probably be enraptured. The tone is very informal and there were several moments when my feminist heart sank (the words “bitch” and “pussy” are used as derogatory terms), but I unfortunately have to admit, this style is probably realistic, especially for young men.
- Mother/Son Relationship
Something else that really bothered me throughout the book was the portrayal of Eldon’s mother, Luella. His mom’s decisions and rationale didn’t make sense to him. She was often shown as unfair and seemingly irrational, but I always got the sense we weren’t getting the whole story, just Eldon’s point of view. Then I realized- this is how most teenagers feel about their parents and after sitting on it, this is the element of the story that grew on me the most. It feels very real in hindsight!
Things that didn’t work:
The protagonist is not a nice person and was very hard to identify with. This could have been done on purpose- exposure early in a reader’s life to unlikeable main characters, a trope that is becoming increasingly popular in adult fiction (think Gone Girl, or The Nest), but I just found him whiny and horrible. He is wrapped up in not being popular or the football star for much of the book. Some of the things he says and does are just mean-spirited, insensitive, or cruel. His friends in the book even call him a jerk. He calls himself a jerk and at one point acknowledges that he’s about to do something dumb, and does it anyway.
- Wish Mythology
I wish there was more time spent here. The fantasy aspect of the story and this unique idea was what drew me in and I felt like there could have been more of it. Also… you mean to tell me no one in the whole history of the town wished for a unicorn? C’mon!
- Eye Rolling
If I could make one plea to the author and editor, it would be to find some other way to express that a character is annoyed. About halfway through the novel, I noticed that this phrase was used fairly often throughout the book, so I paid more attention in the back half. Eye rolling occurs at least once per chapter, if not more. It is somewhat distracting and something that I hope is remedied in the final product that is released.
- Profound Statements Left Out to Dry
This would be the second point I would want to bring up with the team behind this story. I also wish I had taken better notes so I had specific examples… Something I noticed was that characters, usually Eldon, would be positioned in a way so that at the end of a scene they would say something deep or profound, but then when the story picks up, the thread is dropped and the drama is left feeling kind of stale. In my head I’m thinking “No! Dig in! That’s some meaty stuff that can be dealt with more!” A lot of the times, delving into those topics would feed into already existing themes. That being said, YA is supposed to be pretty brief and not super deep, but I couldn’t help wishing for just a little bit more.
In summary, I’d say this book is a prime example of the “it’s not you, it’s me” book review. I am not the intended audience for this story, but if I shift the lens through which I analyze the book, I can see that it has merits and would be well received by young adults. For this reason and what I have listed above, I would give the book a:
I received an advanced copy of this book from Sourcebooks Fire through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
And that’s a wrap! How did I do for my first full length review? Any tips? Are any of you members of sites like NetGalley or Blogging for Books? I’d love to hear about your experiences, but until then…
“Off to the cupboard with you now, Chip. It’s past your bedtime. Goodnight, love…”