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A Wish After Midnight (2008)

by Zetta Elliott

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1307162,948 (3.74)7
Genna Colon desperately wants to escape from a drug-infested world of poverty, and every day she wishes for a different life. One day Genna's wish is granted and she is instantly transported back to Civil War-era Brooklyn.

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This! This is what I was looking for when I started the Diverse Authors Project. I bought an ARC at a kid's sidewalk sale in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I'd already made up my mind to buy something -- it was a books 'n toys sale to earn money for a new bookshelf, c'mon! -- and the kid said this was good. It's right up my alley, being historical with a fantasy element, but had never been on my radar because Elliott self-pubbed. It came out again under Amazon Encore, so that's the ARC I have.

This is not a perfect book. The magic has no grounding; we never even find out what wish Genna made that took her back to the past. (Unless that changed after the ARC came out.) A stronger book would have used that wish to cast ripples through her adventures in 1863, and had those adventures reflect in a more literary manner on her 2001 life. Maybe I'm overreaching, but it seems like those are ways a good editor could have strengthened the book if she'd published it "for real." But part of the point of the Diverse Authors Project is to recognize how relatively few good books by authors of color get published by major companies. I can see how this might have been a hard book for even an author of Elliott's stature to sell.

Which is a damn shame, because it is a very good book. The characters are compelling; the settings in both early-2000s and 1863 Brooklyn felt grounded in reality. The book asks timely questions -- What makes someone "white" and why is that a privileged status? Are black and white necessarily at odds, or can individuals make authentic connections across race? How does class fit into racial conflict? Where does prejudice come from, and how can it lead to violence? -- in both eras, using authentic and well-researched historical examples. Most importantly, I didn't want to put it down! I even risked motion sickness on the bus ride home from New York to find out what happened next.

Two-genres-in-one can be off-putting for some readers, but it can also provide twice the openings for hand-selling! Genna spends enough time in modern-day Brooklyn at the beginning to hook realistic urban fiction readers, and those who love historical melodrama can push through that part if they know what's coming. There's a great love story, but it doesn't overwhelm the book. A lot of tragic things happen to Genna, but the book (and its protagonist) never feels weighed down by them.

Be aware that the n-word is used often -- appropriately so, but that still might be painful for readers. It also ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, including a "gotcha" in the last pages: Genna returns to NYC on Sept. 10, 2001. Elliott was supposedly writing a sequel, but that doesn't seem to have happened. I hope we get one someday! ( )
  SamMusher | Sep 7, 2019 |
Genna is a fifteen-year-old in modern-day Brooklyn. She lives with her single-parent, two-job-working mother, her flirty, sexy older sister, her drug-selling older brother and too-sweet baby brother all in a one-room apartment. Unlike her siblings, Genna works hard at school and plans to go to college and get out of the ghetto. Her poetry-writing boyfriend Judah wants to escape too, by moving to Africa. Genna’s favorite place to go is the botanical gardens where she always has a penny to throw in the fountain for a wish.
After a family crisis, Genna goes to the gardens late at night and makes a wish—one that seems to work, although in an unexpected way. Genna is taken far away (in time, not location), to Brooklyn during the Civil War, where she is suspected of being a runaway slave. Barely saved from being shipped South, Genna is taken to an orphanage and allowed to heal from horrible wounds she doesn't remember getting. Stuck in 1863 Genna must adapt to a new world, where black people have even fewer options than they had in twenty-first century New York.
Elliott masterfully draws both Brooklyns. The modern-day city is alive and dangerous and yet home. The Civil War-era Brooklyn is all those things, and yet totally different. Genna is a strong and adaptable character, one readers can easily sympathize with, and the story is both gripping and informative. Elliott brings to life little-studied events and explores the many difficulties faced by blacks, both of today and during the Civil War.
I was disappointed in the ending, but not so much that it ruined the story. Actually, the ending might precipitate discussion in a high school classroom or adult book club, for which I highly recommend it. ( )
  elizabethcfelt | May 15, 2017 |
The author has good writing skills and uses good words and phrases, but the topic just didn't interest me or hold my attention. I also didn't understand why after she traveled back in time she was bruised and very hurt. Q3P3 AHS/Mackenzie S
  edspicer | Apr 16, 2012 |
A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott – bringing history alive for teenagers

This book stars Genna, who is a fairly ordinary teenager. A bit too clever to be popular with her classmates; a bit shy with boys; family problems at home – there are plenty of characters like this in young adult literature, and Genna is well portrayed by Elliott and her “voice” feels very natural on the page.

After a particularly bad row with her mother, Genna runs to a local gardens to cool down. Somehow (exactly HOW is not explained in the book), Genna is magically transported to Brooklyn of 1863. Here she is taken for a runaway slave and savagely beaten; she is lucky to be rescued by some free blacks, and eventually goes to work for a white Doctor and his wife.

The rest of the book explores how Genna reacts to being bullied by whites generally and patronised by the doctor (who is otherwise kind to her) both on the count of her race and her sex. Rather unbelievably, her boyfriend from modern day Brooklyn, Judah, has also been magically transported to the same time; this provides the author with an opportunity to present some different experiences of blacks in 1863, and present Genna with some interesting dilemmas in terms of acceptable behaviour in 1863 vs Judah’s 21stC expectations.

This book is an historical study text, written by Elliott to catch the interest of (possibly disaffected) black and mixed-race urban teenagers. And I must say it does an excellent job of presenting facts about the American Civil war and early emergence of black rights in an entertaining way. There is also a nod to the problems of poor white Irish immigrants, and Elliott does a nice job of portraying the violence that flares up between this group and free blacks in a non-judgemental way.

However, it is not, in my opinion, good enough as a novel to cross over into general fiction. The cover claims that it is “written with a lyrical grace”, but I found the writing to be pretty mundane. Moreover, the story line is shallow and predictable and has themes that have been dealt with far better in the wider body of young adult literature. As other reviewers have noted, there is no attempt at all to explain or exploit the time travel aspect – it is simply there as a device to get her 21stC teenage readers to try to imagine how they would feel if they were in the position of blacks in 1863.

So how to rate it? Well as an historical study text I would happily give it 5*s. However, it isn’t being marketed as a study text, it’s being presented as a time travel novel. And as a time travel novel, I have to say it simply isn’t good enough. I would give it 1* except for the “voice” of Genna, which comes so convincingly off the page – hence 2*s. I do feel that the author may have it in her to produce a good time travel novel – but this isn’t it. ( )
  hashford | May 30, 2011 |
The premise: ganked from Amazon.com: Genna is a fifteen-year-old girl who wants out of her tough Brooklyn neighborhood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a wish gone awry transports her back in time. Facing the perilous realities of Civil War–era Brooklyn, Genna must use all her wits to survive. In the tradition of Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, A Wish After Midnight is the affecting and inspiring tale of a fearless young woman’s fight to hold on to her individuality and her humanity in two different worlds.

My Rating

Must Have: Despite my brain hopping around demanding certain answers, I understand that my desire for knowledge shouldn't handicap this book in any way, because really, it all depends on the reader, and I can't make a blanket formula that'll fit every reader as to whether or not you'll want the same answers I did. We're all different, after all. But I loved Genna as a narrator. Her POV kept me riveted, especially in present day Brooklyn, and I want so much for there to be a sequel it's not even funny. There's so much this book has to offer, so much this book has to show you, that it'd be a shame to let this one slip by. It's a fantastic book too for a debut novel (I think it's a debut, anyway, and if not, it's still fantastic), and readers will also enjoy the nods/similarities to Octavia E. Butler's Kindred (similar premise but VERY different story) and shades of Justine Larbalestier's Liar, as we have similar narrators (except that Genna is not a liar) in both voice, POV, and stature. This is just a delightful read, and I'm so glad I finally got my hands on this. And Amazon has it RIDICULOUSLY cheap right now, so when I say it won't hurt your wallet, believe me. There's a reason I made this book my bonus read for the September Book Clubbers, and you should want to read this to find out why. Really, you should. I can't wait for more from this author.

Review style: I want to get one thing out of the way: there will be spoilers. There's things I really want to discuss that require my spoiling the book, as I want opinions on why my concerns are or are not important. But aside from those world-building concerns, the review will focus on what this book does best: examine race relations in two different time periods (to the best of my ability, of course) as well as whether or not this book is Kindred, Jr., or its own bird, or both. So yes, SPOILERS, and but if you're not worried about them, or if you've already read the book, feel free to check out the full review at my LJ. As always, comments and discussion are most welcome!


Happy Reading! ( )
1 vote devilwrites | Sep 2, 2010 |
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I turn my back, close my eyes, and toss the penny over my shoulder.
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Genna Colon desperately wants to escape from a drug-infested world of poverty, and every day she wishes for a different life. One day Genna's wish is granted and she is instantly transported back to Civil War-era Brooklyn.

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