What You Wish For releases on July 14, 2020. As with all of Center’s novels, I found this book compelling from the very start and ended up reading it mostly in one sitting. Center has a way with connecting characters to her readers, building empathy and investment from the outset. This particular book really hit home for me because the main character, Sam, is a school librarian. When Center described Sam’s job, the description was alarmingly true and really made me feel validated as a former zany school librarian myself. This book pays homage to the power of joy and living for things that make you happy. At times I laughed out loud, reading the comical banter between characters. Other times, I cried as the story was heartbreaking and bittersweet as well.
I dearly loved this book. Every page of this book. My favorite Katherine Center book yet. If you haven’t read her books yet, do yourself a favor, and get started!
Samantha “Sam” Casey is a school librarian at the Kempner School on Galveston Island, Texas. The school is in a charming old, historic building and its filled with staff who are invested in the children and truly love their work. The founders and principals of the school, Max and Babette Kempner, are like parents to Sam. She rents and lives in the old carriage home attached to their historic mansion. She lost her mother when she was very young, a few years after her father left them. So the Kempners and her school coworkers are really her only family. Her best friend, Alice, is zany math teacher who can always be counted on to cheer Sam up with her hilarious math t-shirts and wild love of all things mathematical. At her job prior to Kempner, Sam merely blended in with her surroundings and kept to herself, only deciding to leave that job because of an unrequited crush on the “King of Play,” fellow educator Duncan Carpenter. Duncan has a zeal for life and fun that Sam had never seen before, and she believed herself to be madly in love with him. His wild outfits, juggling, dance parties, and fun-loving demeanor were legendary. Handsome and enigmatic Duncan, however, never seemed to notice her and when he would speak to her, she would turn into a bumbling, embarrassed person. After years of wishing for Duncan and the heartbreak of watching him become serious with some new perky administrative secretary, Sam had to get away. So she left the past, and Duncan behind. At Kempner, Sam blossomed into a person who was comfortable in their own skin. She died her bangs pink, and they became her signature look, along with polka dots, crazy socks, bold colors, and great shoes. Max and Babette helped her realize that reaching for joy in every moment was important, and that became her mission. Even on days when Sam’s heartbreaking past or the threat of a seizure loomed large on her mind, Sam pushed for joy and strived to live her best life. Then, it all came crashing down around her, when during the opening pages, one of her best friends and father-like mentor, Max, dies suddenly on the dance floor of his own birthday party. Babette, Sam, and the whole Kempner community is devastated, grieving the loss of their beloved Max, a family man, principal, and community member loved by everyone.
When school starts up, Babette, Sam, and the rest of the staff prepare themselves to educate and sooth the children without Max by their side, supporting and cheering for them as only he could. Max’s son-in-law Kent Buckley, the school board president, announces Max’s replacement will be Duncan Carpenter, a well-known educator who will be relocating from Baltimore. The Duncan Carpenter. Her Duncan Carpenter? Sam is reeling. Will he remember her ridiculous crush? Will she have to be on the sidelines while his perfect wife and gaggle of perfect children parade around the school? However, the man who arrives is no-nonsense, buttoned up in a stiff suit, and closed off like a fortress. And to make matters worse, he doesn’t even recognize or acknowledge Sam. They worked together for years! Sam even cat-sit for him once. How can he not remember her? She’s not the mousy little mouse she used to be, that’s for sure, but she hasn’t changed that much!
And so begins a school year for the record books. I won’t tell you anymore because I want you to read and enjoy every page as much as I did. Readers will fall in love with Duncan, Sam, Alice, Babette, and her little grandson, Clay, a frequent third-grade library visitor. If you are looking for a heartwarming book that will bring you a crazy amount of joy, you’ve come to the right place!
Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for the advanced review copy.