The premise of this novel drew me in right away: it is set in a town where everyone gets one wish, and it is guaranteed to come true.
The topic of wishing usually brings on a sense of ‘ah, if only’! How many people would turn down the genie in a magic lamp offering them three wishes? How often do we make excuses saying we would do xyz if only we had more time/money, etc.? This novel imagines some of the consequences of such a gift – if, indeed, it can be called that.
The protagonist, Eldon, is approaching his 18th birthday, the age at which wishes are made. He still doesn’t know what to wish for, and we see other characters regularly asking him if he has made his decision – what people will wish for is like a parallel for asking what teenagers are going to do after school or university.
To help him make a decision, Eldon seeks out various people across the town and asks them about their wishes, resulting in interesting and/or sad vignettes about each. I wasn’t sure how I felt about two of the main wishes revealed near the end, but it wasn’t because they weren’t credible; they just weren’t satisfying.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, I think the strongest aspect of the novel was how realistic the book was (as much as it can be, when everyone’s wish comes true). There is no promotion of the idea of getting something for nothing, because there is often a negative side effect that the person did not consider, and many characters are no happier after their wishes than they were before.
Eldon isn’t the most appealing main character; however, we meet him at a difficult time in his life. Serious family troubles tie in with his indecision about his wish. His girlfriend has broken up with him. He was the star player on the football team until the other boys started wishing to be the best player on the team. That’s one of the caveats of wishing – they cannot wish to be the best in the world at anything, or they risk drawing attention to their unusual town.
I thought this was a good limitation on wishing, giving the town a claustrophobic feel. There are always limitations in any wishing story – you can’t bring people back from the dead; you can’t wish for more wishes; you can’t make someone fall in love with you – although a common forbidden wish is permitted in this novel, leading to one of the more poignant negative consequences we see.
Although this book initially sounds like a YA fairy tale, my favourite thing about it is that, by the end, you really wouldn’t wish to live in Madison. The magical aspect of the town is more a curse than a blessing. And it was sad, yet almost inevitable in a world like ours, that the wish with the fewest negative consequences seemed to be for money.
While this isn’t a book I’ll reread over and over again, I think it is definitely worth a read if you like themes like wishing, ‘what if’ and regrets. As its core, though, it’s simply a story about growing up. I liked what seemed to be the ultimate message – if you want something in life, it’s up to you to make it happen. And, of course, ‘careful what you wish for’!
Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the advance reading copy in exchange for a review.