Review: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott

A Wish After Midnight is one of the most thrilling reading experiences I’ve had this year. Author Zetta Elliott writes with an urgency that informs the reader early on that this will be an important story. It is book 1 of the series, the sequel having been released earlier this year. Given the promising start, I’m eager to see where the story heads.

The novel is a work of speculative fiction, in the spirit of Octavia Butler’s KindredThe two works actually share the same premise — two young black American women are transported back to the 19th century and must face the harsh realities of that world. A notable difference is that A Wish After Midnight is aimed at younger audience, though it often reads like Adult Fiction. Given the subject matter, it makes sense that the novel does not attempt to sugar coat difficult and controversial topics and language. Teenagers will appreciate the honesty with which Elliott tells the story and the respect she grants them by not holding anything back. 

The narrative follows Genna, a 15-year-old Afrolatina who has lived in Brooklyn all her life and wants to get out as soon as possible. Her father left her family and returned to Panama, leaving Genna’s mother to take care of 5 children. Genna does not get along with her older brother and sister and her mother is perpetually working to maintain the household, which leaves Genna to take care of her baby brother most days. Her neighborhood is replete unsavory characters and all Genna wishes for is to escape, go to college, study psychiatry and leave this life behind. Part of Genna’s wish comes true when she literally leaves her current life behind and is sent back to 1863 during the Civil War. 

a Wish After Midnight by Zetta ElliottOne of the weaker aspects of the novel was how little the time-travel was explained. However, as long as you’re able to suspend disbelief and just accept that the Genna was literally sent back to the 19th century, then you will certainly enjoy the story much more. I’ll readily admit I had the exact same issue with Kindred and I still thought it was a great and important work of fiction. Both novels are very light on the science fiction aspect and they’re better off because of it. The real meat and substance of the story is how a young woman like Genna reacts in an era that dehumanizes her. 

The first half of the book has excellent exposition and character development. Elliott writes in an incredibly modern and compelling voice that makes reading an absolute joy. I breezed through this novel in a couple of days, which is high praise coming from me. The second half of the book is written in that same strong voice and begins to explore heavier subjects that are important for teenagers to learn and incorporate into their understanding of history.

The most fascinating aspect of this book is seeing Genna’s reaction and eventual integration into 19th century American society. She is a modern teenager who must face the institutionalized white supremacy that is endemic to America. A point that Elliott clearly wants to make is that even abolitionists, allies, or “good” white people were still quite racist. Even though they wanted the institution of slavery to end, they still did not consider black Americans as equals and Elliott makes it clear that this mentality would not change for over a hundred years. Consider this appalling quote from the abolitionist, Dr. Brant:

And you must, of course, consider your own limits as a person not far removed from the stultifying effects of slavery. Nursing is a respectable profession for a Negro girl, and doctors of any race will always need competent help. I, myself, would have no objections to hiring a Negro as my assistant. Indeed, I feel it is my obligation to uplift those upon whom Nature has bestowed diminished capabilities. It is the duty of every moral, upstanding man to protect and guide those placed within his care, be they women, children, or Negroes.”

Genna is rightfully internally furious at that statement, but can’t do or say much in response for fear of punishment. She would also not be taken seriously because white supremacy was perpetuated by the majority of white Americans both passively or actively and often violently. Teenagers should be exposed to this kind of discourse because it’s honest and they deserve to know the darkest times in our history. 

I was thoroughly impressed by A Wish After Midnight from beginning to end. I must specifically commend the voice and writing style. It is first-person narration done right — simultaneously sophisticated, explicit, and realistic. Genna’s voice captivated me and made me see her as a real person with complex feelings about herself, the world, and its history. I recommend this novel to people of all ages, especially to lovers of historical fiction who don’t mind a bit of science fiction thrown into the mix. 

Disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

In case you missed it: Earlier this week, I interviewed Zetta Elliott about the importance of representative literature, why she writes, and more. 

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39 thoughts on “Review: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott

  1. Great review. This seems very interesting. Also because it seems fit for a younger audience. I am not much of a sci-fic lover, but the plot does seem great, especially aspects of teenagers being told the brutal truths that existed in history.

    Though you say you felt the novel explains time travel not in great detail the fact that you enjoyed it alot makes it a point to overlook. I will go check out the interview too.

  2. Love your review. This sounds like an absolutely fascinating book, unlike anything I’ve ever read. Might have to add this to the TBR and hope it is released in India.
    Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and while I’m still learning to love SciFi this might just be the perfect mix!

  3. Amazing review! this really sounds like an amazing book that I look forward to reading. Historical fiction has definitely been an all time favorite genre for me, and although I’ve never read much sci-fi, this should definitely be new and interesting!

  4. Great review! I really like how you point out that even the “good” white people were racist. Just because they didn’t physically abuse blacks does not mean they didn’t look down upon them. I think that is often missed, when abolitionists etc are praised for their work and beliefs. This book sounds incredible, it is going on my TBR right now.

    1. Glad to hear you’re adding it to your TBR! It’s really a great work of fiction, and I highly recommend it to teenagers. It’s not your typical YA contemporary or Fantasy/Dystopia. It’s riveting historical fiction that is relevant and educational.

  5. This is a brilliant review Naz! The premise of this book sounds so intriguing. I don’t read much sci-fi, but I feel like the message of this book makes it really important for everyone to read. Absolutely incredible.

  6. This sounds like a great choice for both me and my daughter! The science fiction element is a good way to get her reading some historical fiction (a genre she doesn’t think she likes, but I would like her to try it more often). And i don’t have a problem suspending my belief for the sake of a good story.
    I love that you’ve highlighted the fact that even the abolitionists were racist – I think this would be an eye-opener for many teens.
    Off to read the interview…

  7. Fantastic review, Naz! This sounds so interesting and, of course, super important. I’m definitely adding it to my TBR. I love that it’s aimed at a younger audience (but also reads as an Adult fiction) and the fact that it has SFF elements is awesome.

  8. Amazing review Naz!! 😀 Woo Ive missed reading your posts LOL this sounds like the kind of book I’d read 🙂 Time travel always intrigues me but more important is characters with a solid background like Genna is something I’m looking toward for. The struggles she might facing and how she will grow from it 😀 – Trang

  9. This is such a great review, and I didn’t know about that book before, at all, so I’m so glad for the discovery. I’m not really into historical fiction too much, but the little sci-fi aspect really makes me intrigued. Plus, I’m glad it can be read both as Aduld and Young Adult fiction, I feel like I might enjoy it. With such great issues and interesting characters, how could I not? 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  10. Love this, have been excited for your thoughts since you did the author interview! I’m happy to suspend my disbelief, there are other wonderful stories that explore time travel. The premise is really interesting, now I really want to read how Genna compares the racism she faces in the contemporary US with the very explicit one in the 19th century. Because the current state of things is still very horrifying I hope that is also something the reader takes away from the book. Added it to my tbr, the GR button is super handy btw! 🙂

    1. The first 1/3 of the novel does a good job exploring racism in modern America. But mostly how black Americans who are also poor face systemic racism and are trapped in cycles of poverty. Then BAM, Genna is sent back to the 19th century and it’s even worse! I also have the sequel and will try to read it in the next few months because it ended in a such a cliffhanger.

  11. I have so many books written by African Americans sitting on my shelf that I want to read so badly, but when I started Grab the Lapels, I opened submissions for ARCs, and I’m STILL trying to get rid of all of them. Funny thing is unless you specify or put up restrictions, ARCs all come from white women. When I started GTL, I had no restrictions other than no dudes. Reading this review makes me want even more to get to my shelf of books that are not ARCs.

    1. It’s admirable that you’re still trying to read all the arcs! I have stopped accepting them a month ago, at least according to my Contact page. In practice…I did accept 2 review copies because I’m too nice. But two isn’t much! I will get to them in August. In the mean time, I’m going to spend all of July reading my own damn books.
      I must say, I have not had a single white woman request a review for my blog. 😛 There was one white man who did, though…that was awkward.

      1. I didn’t specify any kind of race or ethnicity or sexuality; just women, so it’s understandable. Just based on looking around, it seems like most self-published novels are written by white women trying to make their millions, like the Fifty Shades lady.

  12. Brilliant review, Naz! After reading your review, I’m convinced to read this book, and it’s something I’ve never read before, so more reasons to get this book on my shelf 🙂 I love time travel, and this looks really interesting.

  13. Thanks, Naz. I read Kindred a while back but you’ve got me intrigued about A Wish After Midnight, especially since the time traveller is a teenager.

    1. If you liked Kindred then you’ll definitely like this one. A Wish After Midnight also explore more of Genna’s life and struggles as a modern American teenager, which Kindred didn’t do much of. Hope you get a chance to read it!

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