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As You Wish
Using Magical Realism to Ask Dark Real-World Questions
Madison, Nevada is your definition of a nowhere town. Situated in the middle of the Mojave Desert, it’s hot, dry, and prone to mild earthquakes. Tourists stop at the (only) gas station every once so often on their way to the small town of Rachel—a popular destination for its proximity to Area 51. Otherwise, no one really cares about Madison. There’s one factor that makes the town a little out of the ordinary, though. On their eighteenth birthday, every resident gets to make a wish, and that wish has to come true.
Such is the setup for As You Wish, a new Young Adult novel from author Chelsea Sedoti. It’s a concept destined to inspire some daydreaming. If you could wish for one thing, what would it be? Or perhaps more accurately, if you could have wished for one thing on the day you turned 18, what would it have been? Surely you would have made a good decision. Surely your wish would have changed your life for the better. How could the ability to get your heart’s desire lead to anything but your own personal “Happily Ever After”?
In a lot of ways, apparently.
What’s so groundbreaking about As You Wish is the way it treats the magical realism element. This book is by no means the first story ever written about wishing. What separates it you’re your standard genie-in-the-magic-lamp tale, though, is the fact that Sedoti doesn’t shy away from asking the hard questions. How can you choose your heart’s desire when you’re young and don’t even knowwhat you want? What is the effect of getting everything you ever dreamed of when you didn’t earn it? What are the consequences of a selfish wish? And how soon will regret creep in after you choose your one wish, out of all the countless possible wishes you could have wished?
Writing compelling magical realism is a tough tightrope to walk. If you drown the story in magic and wonderment, it smothers the characters and stretches the boundaries of suspension of disbelief. If you push the magic too far to the sidelines, it begs the question of why you bothered in the first place. Throughout As You Wish, Sedoti manages the perfect balancing act. On the one hand, she has fun exploring the magic of Madison. From the strategies the townspeople use to keep tourists from finding out Madison’s secret, to the theories about why the town has this magic in the first place (read: aliens, of course), As You Wish knowingly acknowledges the outlandishness of its premise. On the other hand, though, Sedoti builds a world where the idea of wishing has just always been a fact of life for these characters. By making the extraordinary feel ordinary, she opens up ample opportunities to tell deeply human stories.
“Deeply human” is a good way to describe As You Wish. Eldon, the story’s protagonist, is a complex and flawed character. The story sets readers down 25 days before Eldon’s eighteenth birthday, and his life is in ruins. His girlfriend recently broke up with him, his parents’ marriage is falling apart, and his sister is in a coma following a horrific accident. Each problem is attributable, in unexpected and thought-provoking ways, to wishing. And to make matters worse, Eldon is running out of time to choose his own wish. So while Eldon is arrogant, indecisive, angry, jealous, reckless, and occasionally unlikable, it’s easy to see why his circumstances put him there. He’s human.
Eldon’s journey also brings out the humanity in his small, special town. In a bid to find inspiration for his wish, Eldon individually consults the people of Madison about the wishes they made when they turned 18. Sedoti gives each wisher his or her own chapter, breaking briefly from Eldon’s firsthand account to explore other perspectives. Instead of distracting from the narrative, these quick, poignant sections deepen the thematic resonance of As You Wish. They also give Eldon’s story more weight—especially when he finally decides how he needs to use his wish.
Gripping, nuanced, and surprisingly dark, As You Wish is a magical realism coming-of-age tale that puts an emphasis on realism. By grounding her big concept in a complex world full of gray areas, Sedoti is able to explore narrative threads that have all too much relevance in today’s society. Issues of authoritarianism, entitlement, and consent all get explored in ways that are fantastical but biting. And the ultimate twist—even if you see it coming—is worth reading all night to reach.
Chelsea Sedoti’s As You Wish is published by Sourcebooks and scheduled for a January 2, 2018 release. You can preorder the book on Amazon.com.
Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for IndependentPublisher.com, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at email@example.com.