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What You Wish For


What You Wish For

It’s all well and good to read widely, to immerse yourself in literary fiction while also keeping up with the news and educating yourself about the issues that shape our society. But sometimes --- perhaps especially during the summer of 2020 --- you just want to give in to a desire to read for pleasure, to open a book that can be enjoyed in a single afternoon on the beach (or a backyard hammock) and will leave you feeling a little better about the world and the people who inhabit it. If you’ve been longing for that kind of reading experience lately, Katherine Center’s new novel, WHAT YOU WISH FOR, might be exactly what you’re, well, wishing for.

Samantha Casey's younger self would hardly recognize the woman she’s become in the last five years. After a traumatic childhood, an unrequited crush so devastating that she had to quit her job rather than face daily heartbreak, and near-constant fears about the recurrence of her epilepsy, Sam arrived on Galveston Island off the coast of Texas --- and found herself at home. Urged on by Max, the headmaster of the independent school where Sam is the school librarian, she has learned to embrace the things that make her happy, which include sparking her students’ love of reading, spending time with her small but loyal circle of friends, and embracing a colorful and whimsical fashion sense that would have horrified her former self.

"WHAT YOU WISH FOR is sweet, charming and funny, with just enough glimpses of tragedy to keep it grounded in reality and avoid verging on the saccharine."

Sam’s life at the Kempner School and on Galveston Island is joyful and near perfect --- that is, until Max drops dead at his own birthday party and the future of the school is thrown into question. Max’s son-in-law (and the chair of the school board) bypasses Max’s widow (and the art teacher) and appoints an outsider as the new headmaster. Sam is first stunned and then both anxious and delighted when she hears who has been named to the position: Duncan Carpenter, the very same man who (unbeknownst to Duncan himself) broke Sam’s heart at her old school. Her own mortification aside, Sam knows that Duncan is the ideal person to carry on Max’s legacy --- his passionate, free-spirited approach to education is the perfect match for the open-minded Kempner School.

But when Duncan actually arrives, Sam can hardly believe her eyes. He has changed entirely, not only in looks --- exchanging his jokey neckties for conservative three-piece suits --- but also in personality. This Duncan is obsessed with school security, and almost immediately he begins to impose draconian safety measures that stifle the school’s unique spirit and destroy the charm of its historic buildings. Sam almost can’t believe it’s the same man, but she’s determined to break through his façade and see if she can uncover the old Duncan somewhere under that sleek new persona.

WHAT YOU WISH FOR is sweet, charming and funny, with just enough glimpses of tragedy to keep it grounded in reality and avoid verging on the saccharine. Sam is charming and kindhearted, and her outlook on life might remind many readers of Sally Hawkins’ character in the movie Happy-Go-Lucky, which contains similar themes about happiness and joy being continual choices. The story behind Duncan’s dramatic transformation will not come as a surprise to many, but it’s no less powerful as a result. Readers will be rooting for Sam and Duncan to find their way back to one another --- but, most of all, for them to be at a place in their lives where they can be happy with themselves.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 17, 2020

What You Wish For
by Katherine Center

  • Publication Date: July 13, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 125021937X
  • ISBN-13: 9781250219374