Title: What You Wish For
Author: Katherine Center
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Published: July 14th 2020 by St. Martin's Press
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Samantha Casey is a school librarian who loves her job, the kids, and her school family with passion and joy for living. But she wasn’t always that way.
Duncan Carpenter is the new school principal who lives by rules and regulations, guided by the knowledge that bad things can happen. But he wasn’t always that way.
And Sam knows it. Because she knew him before—at another school, in a different life. Back then, she loved him—but she was invisible. To him. To everyone. Even to herself. She escaped to a new school, a new job, a new chance at living. But when Duncan, of all people, gets hired as the new principal there, it feels like the best thing that could possibly happen to the school—and the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam. Until the opposite turns out to be true. The lovable Duncan she’d known is now a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing tough guy so hell-bent on protecting the school that he’s willing to destroy it.
As the school community spirals into chaos, and danger from all corners looms large, Sam and Duncan must find their way to who they really are, what it means to be brave, and how to take a chance on love—which is the riskiest move of all.
With Katherine Center’s sparkling dialogue, unforgettable characters, heart, hope, and humanity, What You Wish For is the author at her most compelling best.
After uprooting her life because of a going nowhere crush, Samantha finally feels like her life is on track. When tragedy strikes and fate brings her crush back into her life, her flight or fight instinct takes over. Her crush is completely different though and now they're enemies, maybe. Sam thought she had it all figured out but even though her wardrobe now is full of color, she still is emotionally hiding in the corners.
It made me wish I didn’t have to try so hard with everybody all the damn time. It made me miss my mom —again, as always. It made me wish I had somebody— anybody— in my life who would love me no matter what.
What You Wish For, is a standalone Chik-lit told in first person from our heroine Samantha's point of view. When we first meet her, she dresses in drab colors and tries to just blend into the background. As an elementary school librarian she develops a huge crush on a fourth grade teacher, Duncan. He dresses is zany rubber duck ties, wears flamingo pants, and takes every opportunity to juggle. When he starts dating and there are rumors they are going to get engaged, Sam decides she can't bear it and decides to uproot her whole life and move to Galveston, Texas. A bit much, reaction wise, but I went along with it. At Galveston, Sam comes into herself with the aid of an older couple who established the school she now works at and she feels like she has herself on track.
That was my takeaway: somehow, for some reason, Duncan Carpenter had become completely deranged, and I couldn’t leave until I understood why.
Four years later tragedy strikes and through a whimsy of fate, Duncan becomes the new principal at Sam's school. She's frantic at first, thinking he's married and probably has a gaggle of children but excited for her school to get such a fun guy who will be great for the school. Except when Duncan shows, he's in a three piece suit, completely rigid, and can only speak of keeping everyone safe, making their school into what Sam deems a prison. Sam at first was going to quit because she didn't want to get sucked into her crush again but then decides to stay to fight the changes Duncan wants to make. It's a hardcore crush to enemies story plot.
This moment would change everything. I didn’t know how, exactly, but I knew it would.
I think Sam was supposed to come off as a Mrs. Frizzle (Magic School Bus) and while aesthetically she makes the cut, Sam more often than not came off as immature and lacked the gravitas to deal with some of the issues brought up in the story. The chatty, conversational first person pov gave the story a lighter tone and when issues like grief, abusive marriage, and school shootings were incorporated, the emotional depth was missing for me. One of Sam's big hang-ups is her epilepsy and while it is understandable that there could be emotional baggage, Sam thinking Duncan wouldn't want anything to do with her because elementary children made fun of her in school for it and her father told her he left her mother because of it, felt a bit childish. It was so forced how she pushed Duncan away because of it.
“Joy is an antidote to fear. To anger. To boredom. To sorrow.”
“But you can’t just decide to feel joyful.”
“True. But you can decide to do something joyful.”
Duncan was a little hard to get a grasp on at times because we never get his pov but it was pretty obvious why he had a change of personality and I thought Sam should have clued in a bit earlier because of her profession. The use of Duncan being drugged up after a surgery to finally reveal his feelings was somewhat an easy out to progress their relationship and lessened some satisfaction with it for me. The romance is more central in the story, why I would call this Chik-lit more than Women's fiction, but the steam level is lower.
The world keeps hanging on to this idea that love is for the gullible. But nothing could be more wrong. Love is only for the brave.
The secondary characters are more snippets and lean towards shallow but I would love to read about Sam's pseudo adoptive parents, Babette and Max, their romance, and how they created their school; they seemed so delightful. Sam's friend Alice was almost solely defined by her love of math quotes and Duncan's sister and her husband appear so briefly, they might not even be considered secondary. This story had quick readability but it came off immature and lacking depth, especially when addressing school shootings, but I live in America and maybe other country readers wouldn't have the sensitivity I do about it. If looking for a Chik-lit that has a pretty good focus on the romance and wanting a lighter touch to some serious issues, this could be a pick for the afternoon.