Brooklyn, 2001. Fifteen year old Genna lives in the slums and dreams of getting out of her neighborhood. She wants to go to college and become a psychiatrist. Nearly every day, she goes to a local garden and wishes in the fountain there to escape her life. When that wish comes true, though, it’s not exactly what she expected. Genna finds herself in Civil War-era Brooklyn instead. It’s a premise very similar to Kindred, a book I loved earlier this year, but the experience of reading it was very different for me.
Unsurprisingly, A Wish After Midnight focuses a lot on discrimination, and not just applied to African Americans. There was prejudice against women and the Irish back in the Civil War era, and prejudice against whites and within the black community in the modern section. The first third of the book takes place solely in the present (which actually surprised me going in, as I expected to go back in time sooner), where Genna suffers through prejudice in her own neighborhood. She’s quiet, not particularly good looking, and studious, so people think she’s a snob and a teacher’s pet. She doesn’t fit in, but she also doesn’t fit in in the white world, where people look at her suspiciously because of her shabby, poor clothes and the color of her skin.
The book isn’t written in a way to only show one sort of discrimination, though. The feeling of being discriminated against is one that many people have felt, and not just because of skin tone. A Wish After Midnight is written in a way that you can sympathize and understand Genna based on your own experiences. As I read about Genna walking around feeling self-conscious, like everyone – black and white – was looking at her and judging her, I could empathize. I’m very overweight, and I know that feeling of being either stared at or completely ignored because of the way I look. I know what it feels like to have my every move scrutinized, and to be cast aside or thought of as less than human because of my weight. It was really nice to read a book that showed how multi-faceted the subject of prejudice and discrimination can be.
I especially love how Elliott juxtaposed the present-day discrimination with that of Civil War-era discrimination. To see how white Americans would hire black servants before they would hire Irish servants. To see how an interracial relationship was looked on with horror and often met with violence. It was wonderful to see how not everyone was prejudiced, and how much people worked to help each other at times. It was also great to see the discrimination against blacks balanced by discrimination against whites, which isn’t often addressed. Several of the black characters in this book hated white people on principle, without getting to know them (like Genna’s mom and boyfriend). They instantly judged the white people by their skin as well, creating a circle of discrimination. It’s good to have both sides in the book, I think.
Despite the fact that this book was similar in idea to Kindred, I got very different things out of it. I didn’t feel like it was a copy or an updated version of Kindred or anything. They are very different books, with different ideas and themes. I’m glad to have read both of them, and particularly glad to read them only a few months apart. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.