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A Wish After Midnight (thoughts)

June 23, 2009

I won A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott several months ago at Black Eyed Susan’s. I tore through it as soon as it arrived, really enjoyed it, but never actually wrote a review. But since I haven’t seen it reviewed anywhere else, and I think y’all should know about it, here I am!

There’s a nice video in which Elliott sums up the book:

But for those of you who can’t/won’t watch the video, here’s the gist. Genna Colon is fifteen, living in NYC, frustrated by the lack of real ambition in most of the people she knows. Her home is a tiny apartment in a building run by drug dealers, so Genna finds a refuge in a beautiful garden. About one third of the way through the story, she makes a wish in a fountain there, and finds herself transported back to the Civil War era, in a Brooklyn that’s about to erupt into race riots. The rest of the book is her trying to keep herself safe, plan a decent life, and most of all get back to her own time.

There were lots of things I loved about this book. Genna’s voice is so strong, and so believable, that she instantly felt like a real person instead of a character. Elliott’s writing is marvelous; here’s Genna describing the garden:

Things are always changing in there-it’s like magic, almost. Every time I visit the garden I see something new. And every time I go to the garden, I find something old. The garden’s got a lot of history, and I like that because I’m into old things. Not just any old thigs-my crappy building, or the old hand-me-down clothes I sometimes I have to wear. I like really old things, things that were made thirty, fifty, or a hundred years ago. In the garden, all the things still look new becuase people take care of them. Nobody sprays graffiti all over the place, and you almost never see trash lying on the ground. The garden’s always clean and tidy, ’cause they got people who pull up weeds, and rake the leaves, and cut the branches off trees when they start growing out of control. It’s hard to believe those gigantic trees were once skinny and only as tall as me. Now they’re so wide I can’t get my arms around them. There are trees in the garden that are older than me, Mama, and Abuela put together. The weeping hemlock is a hundred and twelve years old, and the Armistice maples were planted in 1918 after WWI. If those trees could speak, I wonder what they would say. Sometimes I sit still and listen as the wind whispers through their leaves.

So that excerpt was longer than I intended, but I just couldn’t help myself! I actually want to include the next paragraph too, but that would be going too far, wouldn’t it?

wishaftermidnightSo, in addition to having beautiful, flowing prose and a lovable main character, the book also has an awesome plot. Time travel! I love books with time travel in them, especially when the past is brought to life. Elliott certainly does a good job with that. In fact, it’s another one of her strengths. In both the present and the past, Elliott managed to mix the right amount of detail and description so that I felt like I was spying on people’s lives. I could see it all before me, but the descriptions never got out of hand. This isn’t a flowery book.

The plot, especially once Genna goes back in time, kept me flipping the pages. I wanted to see how Genna handled the enormous challenge of being young, female, and black in such a time period. I wanted to know what happened to her newfound friends, which include a young Irish maid and a handsome mixed race guy who has quite an interest in her. I wanted to know if Genna would ever make it back to her time, or if she’d even want to. And trust me, you find all of that out!

The one part of the story that bothered me was Genna’s boyfriend (from the present) and how intense their relationship was. I just didn’t see why or how she’d decided he was the love of her life. This is important, since he was brought back in time via the fountain as well (although to a different place) and plays a key role in the plot. It was the only part of the book that didn’t feel believable. That being said, I seem to have issues with the sudden tightness of relationships in a lot of YA books. I think it’s because I didn’t date in high school, so I didn’t experience that young teenage craziness. In college, I had my first boyfriend about a month before I turned eighteen, which is a different age, I guess.

Despite that caveat, this was a wonderful book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in Brooklyn (I don’t think I’d ever read anything about Civil War NYC before!), the Civil War, YA lit, time travel, etc. Elliott is a marvelous writer, and I can’t wait to read the sequel! (I think this is a self-published novel, but I didn’t realise that until I went to check who the publisher was! So don’t be worried about that.)

14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2009 5:35 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever read about Brooklyn during the Civil War either – sounds interesting.

  2. June 23, 2009 6:26 pm

    I’m really leery of self-published stuff, but this one sounds amazing! I love the sample of Genna’s voice.

  3. June 23, 2009 10:34 pm

    It’s impressive how much you remember about the book after so much time. I love the title of the book. It’s poetic :)

  4. stacybuckeye permalink
    June 23, 2009 10:40 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation. It’s nice to see books that aren’t on every blog I visit ;)

  5. June 24, 2009 6:49 am

    Nice video. You’ve certainly caught my interest with this positive review!

  6. June 24, 2009 2:46 pm

    I’ve seen this video before and the book looks so intriguing! Just saw Zetta Elliot’s award-winning picture book, “Bird,” at the bookstore the other day. She’s really talented.

  7. June 24, 2009 3:10 pm

    ooooo! I love time travel, too. onto the tbr!

  8. June 25, 2009 9:37 am

    I’ve not heard of this one at all. Sounds interesting. Those who like historical fiction might want to give “The Shopkeeper” by James Best a look. Set in 1870s/’80s Nevada so you have the gun rights, politics, the way of life (including the all-important General Store!), etc. The shopkeeper is an East Coast city slicker who tames the West, so to speak. And you learn lots about the era, which I always find interesting.

  9. June 26, 2009 3:53 pm

    BermudaOnion, it was! There were race riots!

    Memory, I’m very skeptical of self-publishing too. But I woudn’t have known this was just from reading it!

    Violet, thanks! I like the title too. :)

    Stacy, thank you!

    JenClair, I think you’d enjoy it. :)

    Ali, I didn’t know she did picture books! I’ll have to see if my niece enjoys those!

    Care, isn’t time travel the best?!

    Liz, thanks for the recommendation.

  10. elliottzetta permalink
    June 26, 2009 9:33 pm

    Hey, Eva–thanks so much for this thoughtful review! And thanks especially for taking a chance on Wish; I admit, even *I* am wary of self-published books, but I really had no choice…after 5 years of rejection letters–even with an award-winning picture book–I decided to take matters into my own hands. Less than 3% of the 5000 books published for children each year are written by black authors…so the odds are stacked against me, plus the speculative fiction/time travel genre generally doesn’t feature protagonists of color. But when a writer takes a chance on a different kind of story, it’s SO rewarding to find READERS who are also willing to take a chance…so thanks!

    PS Many readers have told me they prefer Paul to Judah, which was partly my intent…I didn’t date in high school either, but remember how I felt the first time a boy told me I was special; if no one’s ever told you that before, you feel immediately bound to that person…some of it is loneliness, desperation, fear of rejection. But Judah does have *some* redeeming qualities! I wanted someone complex, flawed…I’m posting excerpts of Judah’s Tale, the sequel to AWAM, on my blog if you’re interested…

  11. June 27, 2009 7:02 pm

    Zetta, thanks for stopping by! I honestly didn’t realise it was self-published until I was looking it up for the link so other people could buy it. :) I’m sorry the odds are so stacked against you in publishing. :/ I must admit I prefer Paul to Judah, so I’m glad you wrote it that way. :) And I definitely still feel bound to my first boyfriend, for exactly the reasons you mention (fortunately, he was a great guy, so he didn’t take advantage of that!). Thanks for the link: I’m definitely interested!

  12. July 6, 2009 12:07 pm

    I also have and issue with the way that Young Adult books handle relationships. I dated a few times in high school but never got that intense quickly.

    thanks for the great review.

  13. July 30, 2010 9:37 am

    Dear A Striped Armchair and Readers:

    Young adult author, playwright and poet, Zetta Elliott will discuss her latest book A WISH AFTER MIDNIGHT during a live interview on Rhymes, Views & News Talk Radio hosted by DuEwa Frazier on Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 5pm EST.

    Zetta Elliott will discuss the themes within A Wish, her writing life and outreach to young readers. Tune in to listen LIVE and CALL IN with your questions for Zetta at (646)716-9474.
    for more information on this and other author interviews!


  1. new review @ A Striped Armchair « Fledgling

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