by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
Katherine Center’s What You Wish For is devoted to the pursuit of joy. That doesn’t mean it’s always a joyful novel--in fact, it opens with a tragedy that broke my heart. What it does mean is that Center is exploring, on every page, what we can do when it’s tough to be joyful, when our lives seem to be out of our control, when the world seems to be against us. How do we find joy then?
Elementary librarian Samantha Casey has not led an easy life, but she’s finally found her happy place. She loves Kempner School, which is a tight-knit, welcoming place. She has a best friend, Alice, who is both incredibly nerdy (math t-shirts!) and insanely cool. By moving to Galveston, she’s escaped the horror of an embarrassing and unrequited crush on Duncan Carpenter, a brilliant teacher and free spirit from her last school. And she has Max and Babette Kempner, the founders of the school, her mentors, and her (unofficially) adopted parental figures.
All of this changes in a moment, in the first scene of the book, when Max, the beloved principal of Kempner School, dies. Suddenly, that firm foundation Sam had found shifts, and she’s left to try to scramble her way back to security, especially after the unexpected reappearance of a very changed Duncan in her life.
Katherine Center does here what she does so well in each of her novels: she creates a world for her main character and then shakes it up. Readers get to watch what happens as the character tries to find firm ground again while realizing that false comfort won’t work.
What You Wish For, with its school setting, really resonated with me: I loved the discussions of the place of joy and color in a school (and in a life) and the focus on reading what makes you happy (former English teacher here!). I was so happy to see Duncan, a secondary character from a prior Center favorite, Happiness for Beginners, reappear. I reveled in Sam’s struggle to love and connect with others, particularly her consideration of when that connection is worth the risk inherent in reaching out.
I absolutely loved Max, who is wise and kind and the principal and dad we all wish we had (I think I marked every single thing he said in the book!). Most of all, I was hungry to see a character who realizes that finding joy can be difficult but that the search is definitely worth it. That’s a message we all need always, but particularly right now.
Check out our interview with Katherine Center on the Unabridged Podcast, releasing next Wednesday! And pre-order What You Wish For today.
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