This book was surface level readable, but morally it’s made me more and more mad the longer I think about it. It’s the kind of YA book where you read it in an intense sitting but are also irritated that the author isn’t trying to do more with the material. There is a lot jammed in here — a town where everyone gets a wish on their eighteenth birthday, football angst, romantic angst, dealing with your little sister being hit by a car and blaming yourself — all the angst a reader could want wrapped up in a magical realism bow. The issue with using magical realism in a weirdly practical way is that it opens the reader up to think of lots of additional questions and loopholes, and this book is oddly pedantic with its magical realism. No one ever tried to think out of the box before Eldon came along, which I just found impossible to believe.
Eldon is going to turn eighteen in twenty-five days but hasn’t come up with a wish yet. Everyone in Madison, a small town in the Nevada desert, gets to go into a cave and make a wish when they turn eighteen. Whatever they wish for can only apply to themselves or to the town, and no one can make big, world-changing wishes. Eldon’s little sister Ebba was hit by a car a few months ago and now she is on life support in a nursing home in Las Vegas. His mom wants him to wish for money so they can pay for better doctors, his dad wants him to be a star football player, and his best friend Merrill wants him to indulge in conspiracy theories with him. Eldon’s driving motivation is to find out what he wants to do with his wish.
And what he does with his wish makes sense within the story, but ended up raising a lot of practical questions. In a bit of the story that was particularly upsetting for me, one man (Gil) wished to not be gay, but it turned out that being gay was an integral part of him, and now he can’t have romantic feelings for anyone and has spent the rest of his life alone and unable to like anyone. Chelsea Sedonti manages to encapsulate the horror of living for the rest of your life knowing you’re cut off from what made you yourself in this scene, but that character is just a prop to get Eldon on the path to make his final decision and wrap the book up. At the end of the book, all the people who were in pain because of their wishes just have to keep on being in pain, and I kept thinking about Gil having to spend his life without ever knowing love. I could tell that the ending was supposed to be kind of triumphant and bittersweet, but as a gay man, this read like a horror novel was going on in the background. I’m not even getting into the throwaway lines where some person in town is rumored to have tried to wish AIDS away, but that’s never explored in any depth and the book just moves on. I read the book quickly but I couldn’t recommend it despite its competent writing. I would instead recommend Bone Gap, which has queer characters and magical realism, but in a way that’s thoughtful and subtly written.
Warnings for: attempted suicide and an initially grisly aftermath, a child being struck by a bike and then being on life support, lots of fighting, misogyny, alcoholism, physical child abuse, bury your gays alive type trope