Review: As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti
What if you could ask for anything- and get it? In the sandy Mojave Desert, Madison is a small town on the road between nothing and nowhere. But Eldon wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because in Madison, everyone gets one wish—and that wish always comes true. Some people wish for money, some people wish for love, but Eldon has seen how wishes have broken the people around him. And with the lives of his family and friends in chaos, he’s left with more questions than answers. Can he make their lives better? How can he be happy if the people around him aren’t? And what hope is there for any of them if happiness isn’t an achievable dream? Doubts build, leading Eldon to a more outlandish and scary thought: maybe you can’t wish for happiness…maybe, just maybe, you have to make it for yourself.
I read Chelsea Sedoti's debut novel The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett last year, and felt a lot of ways about it, and not all of them good. However, I was eager to read her sophomore novel As You Wish because I remembered admiring the way she wrote complex, complicated, and, well, unlikable characters. I was also intrigued by the surreal premise of a town where everyone gets to wish for whatever they want on their 18th birthdays. I needed to see how it played out.
For the most part, I wasn't disappointed. Eldon is a kid who was used to being the best, until senior year when everyone started turning 18 and getting their wishes that usurped him. Now he isn't the best anymore--not at sports, not at getting the girls, not at much. And, as his own 18th birthday approaches, he's getting a lot of pressure from all sides about what to wish for, and he isn't happy about this. In a world where many wish for beauty, or power, or money (or an unlimited supply of drugs), he has no idea what he wants to accomplish with his wish. He's torn between familial obligation and, well...trying to find out what he wants.
There's a lot I like about As You Wish. I like Eldon in all of his arrogance and missteps. He is foolish, and surly, and stubborn, and entitled, and often oblivious to what other people are going through. He is also emotional, hurting, and sort of just coasting through. His family breaks my heart. I also like his group of friends, and the other characters that populate his weird little town. In every detail, his town takes on a life of its own. Sedoti does place so well in this book; you feel the intense isolation and all that dusty desert wind. I loved it.
One of my favorite parts of the entire book are the stories of other characters' wishes. We get a few descriptions of people's wishes in dialogue, but when we get the really meaty ones, they're set apart from the rest of the novel--written in italics and in third person, almost omniscient. They were so cool to read, even if they did tend to skew in the direction of wishes-gone-wrong (or, at least, awry).
The magical realism aspects of the novel, are also fantastic--this otherwise ordinary, boring town shocked through with this bolt of fantasy. When we learn about the rules and the history of wishing, it doesn't feel plodding or over-explained.
It isn't a perfect novel, though. I still had a lot of questions about the town and the rules--like, surely some people have had good experiences with wishing? One character even calls Eldon out for his obsession with only the stories that end poorly, but that's it kind of comes too late. And the ending! A lot of things get wrapped up neatly, and I don't know if the book earned the way everything turns out. It fell a little flat. I don't know if Eldon grows as much as a book like this warrants--but he is trying, and maybe that's enough?
Should you read it? I'd never read a book quite like As You Wish before, and there is much that Chelsea Sedoti gets right. While there are some holes, and some readers find Eldon off-putting, I'd recommend it for AT LEAST the premise and the world-building.
3 1/2 Stars
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
Expected Publication January 2, 2018 by Sourcebooks Fire