What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Book cover of What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Book cover of What You Wish For by Katherine CenterThank you to St Martin’s Press for the review copy

When I found out that Katherine Center had a new book coming out, I hit up my contact at St Martin’s Press right away. I didn’t even read the description, I went on blind faith because I read Things You Save in a Fire and How to Walk Away last year and couldn’t believe how good they were. I have no idea how Katherine Center keeps topping herself, but her books keep getting better and better with each release. What You Wish For is a poignant, beautiful story of loss, grief, and learning to let others in that everyone should have on their TBR this summer.

What is What You Wish For about?

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.

What You Wish For takes place in a small community that is anchored around the local elementary school. Helmed by a beloved principal, the school is known for its passion for creativity and the arts – but when the heart and soul of the school dies, the fate of the school is put in jeopardy.  Enter Duncan – a previously goofy, currently authoritarian man hired to be the new principal. His priority for the school is improving the security, even at the cost of the school’s signature creativity. Samantha must take the time to figure out what the hell happened to Duncan, and quickly figure out how she can save her school.

Lets talk about Samantha

Samantha was a great lead for this book – she wielded her bright and colorful clothing as armor, loved her job, and was fiendishly dedicated to her little corner of the school. She was the exact opposite of Duncan: optimistic in the face of her medical struggles and experiences. It was this optimism that I loved – it wasn’t born out of naiveté, she made the conscious decision every day to not let her medical issues hold her back. Though, through flashbacks, we do get to see who she was before she decided to take control of her life and not let her medical issues control her. She was a genuinely caring character, who loved her friends, and treated them all like family.

The Max of it all

Even though Max, the principal of the school, passed away in the first pages of What You Wish For, he is still a massive presence throughout the rest of the story. Almost every character in the book had a Max-ism (or a lesson Max taught them) that influenced the very core of their character. For example, he was the one who helped Sam through the aftermath of her last major medical episode. He helped her learn to take control of her life, and taught her ways to seek out joy (and to stop using a neutral wardrobe as an invisibility cloak). Max left a true void in this book, but he also continued to teach and improve the lives of the people at his school. For not actually having a physical presence for 99% of the book, Max was a hell of a character.

Lets talk about Duncan

Duncan was also an artfully crafted character – in the beginning, he was a ruthless authoritarian, implementing sweeping (and creativity oppressing) changes in Samantha’s beloved school. He wasn’t always this way: he and Sam had previously worked at the same school, where he was a colorful, fun loving teacher. He was the goofy teacher: the one who spearheaded pancake days and wore crazy outfits, and set a standard for the rest of the teachers at his school. The best part of What You Wish For was the exploration of how such a beloved, colorful teacher became a dictator principle obsessed with security. The arc he experiences as he slowly sheds this strict persona is one of the best examples of character growth I’ve read in a long time.

How cute were they together?

These two had the cutest relationship – and it even began as an unrequited crush. When Sam and Duncan previously worked together, Sam developed a deep crush for Duncan –  an unrequited one. Duncan was in a relationship at the time, and when rumors started circulating that he would be proposing to his girlfriend soon, Sam decided to give herself a fresh start and move to Max’s school. When the two are reunited, they have no chemistry – Sam was even plotting to get Duncan fired. However, cracks started to show in Duncan’s carefully crafted facade, and their (slow burn) chemistry kicked off. I really loved that their chemistry grew organically as they got to know each other – it felt realistic and raw. They slowly discovered truths about each other and fell for each other in a really natural way – they were definitely one of my favorite rom-com couples.

Verdict on What You Wish For

What You Wish For is a topical, meaningful contemporary book with a sweet underlying romance. I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next – and I would highly recommend everyone who is a fan of contemporary books pick up her previous books (see my reviews for Things You Save in a Fire and How to Walk Away). Do yourself a favor and add this book to your summer reading list, I promise you won’t regret it. 5/5

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