Review: What You Wish For by Katherine Center

by Heather Caliendo
book review what you wish for - book club chat

Editorial note: I received a copy of What You Wish For in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

What You Wish For by Katherine Center is an impactful story centered around hope. 

I was first introduced to Katherine Center’s writing when I read How to Walk Away. I remember going in expecting a lighter women’s fiction type story. But it’s very emotional and doesn’t shy away from tough subjects. Highly recommend that one if you haven’t read it yet!

Last year’s Things You Saved in a Fire is pretty good but I wasn’t as invested in that story. I thought the romance was a bit too forced. 

Her latest novel What You Wish For is very well done for the most part. I did have a couple issues with it near the beginning but it does even itself out. I’m so impressed with how she handles real-life serious topics and weaves into the narrative. It’s never been more apparent than with What You Wish For.

The synopsis 

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.

Slow parts

So first let me say, the story starts off well but hits a bit off a lull when Duncan arrives on the scene, which I was surprised at. Their past is a bit flimsy and he comes in very brash. Almost too much in certain scenes. While this is a light version of enemies-to-lovers, what I don’t like about that storyline is they usually make the male so unlikable in the beginning. It just becomes too much. Now we definitely learn why Duncan is the way he is and it does make sense in areas but I think he was too much at the beginning. 

I found myself getting annoyed with Sam with being so flustered by him when all he was in her past was a crush. I think if they had more of a relationship, her reaction would have made sense. But it felt a bit high schoolish when they’re supposed to be in their late 20s. Luckily, once you get past those sections, the story really takes off. 

Serious topics

I keep my reviews spoiler-free so I won’t go into detail about which serious topics she covers in What You Wish For. In the past, Katherine has covered life-changing injuries and sexual assault. She does not shy away from real world problems. And this is why her stories rise about the stereotypical women’s fiction story. In the case of What You Wish For, both Sam and Duncan have traumatic pasts that they can’t shake. And it impacts every day—really their every move and decision making. The story is about overcoming the past and learning to look for joy.

She didn’t write this story expecting the world to look the way it does now but I think people will find there’s a lot of comfort in this story. Bad things happen and it’s scary but you have to keep moving forward because that’s the only choice we do have. 

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