Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Rgz Salon: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott, reviewed by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Rgz SALON member Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review; the author of the award-winning multicultural bibliography Our Family, Our Friends, Our World; the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, a collection of short stories by Latino authors; and most recently, the author of Gringolandia, a young adult novel about a refugee family living with the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. (Read the fascinating Cover Story for Gringolandia.)
We're honored to have her here as part of the rgz SALON, a feature where four of the top kidlit experts clue us in to the best YA novels they've read recently. Today, Lyn reviews A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott (Las Vegas: AmazonEncore, 2010), one of the first books chosen for AmazonEncore publishing!
"Elliott, author of the award-winning Bird (Lee & Low, 2008), tried for years to find a publisher for this young adult novel and ultimately decided to self-publish it in spring 2009. Most established review sources do not review self-published titles, and most libraries will not acquire them, but several prominent reviewers and librarians gave Elliott’s new book a chance.
"I was among them. The premise of A Wish After Midnight intrigued me, the experience of a young black woman, dissatisfied with her life, who travels back in time and learns about herself and her roots, much in the same vein as Octavia Butler’s classic novel, Kindred (1979). And many years ago, when I self-published my first teen novel, Hiding Places (1987), a number of reviewers and YA librarians gave me a chance. I was invited to offer workshops in inner-city schools as a result of Hiding Places’s success, and those workshops ultimately led me to become a commentator on and advocate for multicultural literature.
"Nonetheless, a chance isn’t the same as an unconditional embrace. A Wish After Midnight had to prove itself worthy, not only meeting the standards of a traditionally published novel but also demonstrating the kind of uniqueness that would explain traditional publishers’ reluctance to take it on. Elliott’s novel exceeded my expectations on both counts, and for that reason I chose to review it for MultiCultural Review and also to give it a cover feature. Several major book blogs also championed Wish, and AmazonEncore selected it for its debut list of novels that had achieved acclaim as self-published titles.
"The new edition of Wish has a striking redesigned cover, above (though I also liked the original pink-and-gray cover designed by Bird’s illustrator, Shadra Strickland, left), went through a round of copyediting, and picked up a discussion/study guide, but it is essentially the same as the original. The main character is 15-year-old Genna Colon, the daughter of an African-American mother and a Panamanian father who abandoned the family to return to his country. The third of four children, Genna wants to live in a nice house rather than a tenement, she wants her older brother and sister to set better examples for her, and she wants to keep her baby half-brother, Tyjuan, from following in their footsteps. She enjoys taking Tyjuan to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in his stroller. There, she meets Hannah, a white woman who hires her as a babysitter and gives her books, and Judah, a Jamaican-American teen with dreadlocks and a devotion to the music and philosophy of Bob Marley.
"A fight with her mother and older siblings drives Genna to the Botanic Garden in the middle of the night, and from there she is transported to the same spot in 1863. She wakes up battered, suspected of being a runaway slave. In a parallel to Genna’s relationship with Hannah, kindly Dr. Brant takes an interest in her and offers her a position as a housekeeper, but this modern-day teenager chafes under his wife’s bigotry and emotional instability. Genna meets biracial Paul, who protects her from a racist gang, and the two are attracted to each other, but then Judah turns up in this past world as an escaped slave seeking to move—with her—to Africa as part of the American Colonization Society. Soon, the violence of the Draft Riots spreads to the other side of the river, threatening Genna, Judah, Paul, and even the Brants.
"Conflict, action, romance, and a vividly drawn setting—Wish has them all! Elliott takes her time to establish Genna’s personality and the conflicts in her life before transporting her to the past, a wise decision because readers grow close to her and care about how her journey to her roots will change her—if she survives. Fans of history and philosophy can debate what we know in hindsight and how our world may have turned out differently had people then made different choices. And students of literature can trace the parallels to Kindred, knowing that Elliott’s work draws from the great writers who have come before her."
How intriguing does that sound? Thanks, Lyn!
UPDATE: Check out the Cover Story for this book.