Friday, May 7, 2010

A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott

book cover

A Wish After Midnight
by Zetta Elliott

Trade Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: AmazonEncore
First Released: 2008

Author's Website

Source: Review copy. A publicist from Goldberg McDuffie Communications contacted me about reviewing the book.

Book Description (from author's website):
Fifteen-year old Genna Colon believes wishes can come true. Frustrated by the drug dealers in her building, her family’s cramped apartment, and her inability to compete with the cute girls at school, Genna finds comfort in her dreams of a better future. Almost every day she visits the garden and tosses coins into the fountain, wishing for a different life, a different home, and a different body. Little does s he know that her wish will soon be granted: when Genna flees into the garden late one night, she makes a fateful wish and finds herself instantly transported back in time to Civil War-era Brooklyn.

A Wish After Midnight is a slice-of-life story exploring what life is like for poor blacks in Brooklyn now and what it was like in Brooklyn in 1863 from the Emancipation Proclamation to the New York Draft Riots. I'm calling it a slice-of-life book because it doesn't really have an ending or even a resolution of some difficulty. I prefer a more typical problem-resolution story format.

The novel was written in first person, present tense. In part one, Genna told the reader about her life. In part two, she's been sent back in time, and several times the reader was told what was going on when Genna wasn't around and what those characters were thinking. That jolted me from the story. But the story soon slipped back into only first person present tense, though this time telling the story as she lived it instead of her telling the reader about her life.

Genna had a rather mature outlook about some things and tried to be fair about the things she observed, which helped temper the mainly negative focus of the book. The characters were realistic, but the story seemed to be focused more on social commentary than the characters. Still, the story was interesting.

The historical details were more social and political than details about everyday life. Overall, this was worked into the story smoothly. I noticed a few minor, non-critical details that weren't quite right (mainly about the medical practices of 1863).

There was no sex. There was some cussing and swearing, but not a lot. Overall, I'd recommend this novel to those who like "slice of life" or historical time travel stories.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
I turn my back, close my eyes, and toss the penny over my shoulder. I hear it slap against the water, but I turn around just the same and watch it sink to the bottom of the fountain. It lies there with all the other glittering coins. Money unspent. Wishes waiting to come true.

Slowly, I walk away from the fountain and wonder if any of my wishes will ever come true. I wish for lots of different things. Sometimes I make wishes for other people, like my mother. I wish she didn't have to work so hard, and I wish she didn't always have that knot between her eyes from worrying about how she's going to pay the rent and buy food and clothes for all of us. I wish my abuela still lived with us, but she went home five years ago. Abuela said living in America was hard enough; she wanted to go home to die. Sometimes I wish my sister Toshi didn't act so evil all the time. And I wish my brother Rico would stop trying to mess with me. But mostly I make wishes for myself. I wish my hair was long and wavy like those caramel-colored girls in music videos. I wish I had nice clothes to wear instead of knock-offs or bargains from the ten-dollar store. I wish I wasn't so tall. Being tall's okay if you look like a model. But I don't. I'm just plain, and dark, and too tall, and too smart, and too shy to talk to anybody. Except I'm not shy, really. I just don't fit in.

I always have pennies in my pocket whenever I come to the garden, and I come here a lot. It's real quiet, and pretty. No one notices me, not even the security guards. Because I'm so tall, they think I'm old enough to be in here alone. They don't know that I'm only fifteen. They don't know anything about me--where I live, or what my family's like. I feel free when I walk through the garden gates, like I'm somebody new. I wish I could always feel that way. I wish I could go somewhere different, another country, someplace far away. A place where I don't have to feel ashamed of my home, and my clothes, and my short nappy hair that just won't grow. I toss a penny into the fountain and wish I could live inside someone else's body, even for just one day. But that wish--like all the others--hasn't come true yet.

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