REVIEW: Wishful Thinking by Alexandra Bullen
Dear Ms. Bullen,
You’re a new-to-me author who was included in the last batch of books Jane sent to me. I actually thought this novel was your debut until I went to your author site and discovered this was your second novel and it was the second in a series! Not once did I ever get that impression while reading Wishful Thinking so that was a major plus in my book. (Then I discovered its sequel status was mentioned on the cover flap of the ARC. Shows how much I pay attention to those!)
Hazel Snow was an adopted child. Except her adoptive mother, Wendy, died when she was young, causing her adoptive father, Roy, to fall apart and become an alcoholic. This led to Hazel having a broken childhood of bouncing around various foster homes, interspersed by the times Roy cleaned up his act, only to fall off the wagon again. As a result, she’s always wondered what it would have been like to grow up with her birth mother. On Hazel’s eighteenth birthday, she gets her chance. Roy gives her an envelope left to her by Wendy. Inside is a slip of paper containing the name of her birth mother.
Hazel does some leg work and discovers that her birth mother lives in the area and in fact, there will be a gala held in her honor. But to attend, she needs something to wear. She’s lucky in that she actually has a dress that would be suitable but it has a tear in it (it was a thrift store find). Luckily — and personally, I would have been suspicious at this point — the dress has a business card pinned to it containing the name of a seamstress.
But when she picks up the dress, Hazel discovers the seamstress didn’t mend it at all. Instead, she gave her a completely different dress. Confused but out of time, Hazel puts the dress on anyway, finds that it fits like a dream, and attends the gala. Unfortunately, her dreams are crushed. Her birth mother is dead and the gala is being held posthumously.
Understandably upset, Hazel wishes she could have had the chance to get to know her mother and wakes up to find herself on the opposite coast of the United States and in the past. The woman she believed to be her birth mother is alive and Hazel has been delivered practically onto her doorstep. This is the opportunity she’s been wishing for.
What’s more, she finds that she now has two other dresses, the original torn dress, and a note from the seamstress. Each dress can grant her one wish. She’s made one wish already, which means she has two left. The question is how she will use those remaining wishes, since everything she does in the past has the potential to affect her future.
I admit I’m not a big fan of time travel stories. They just don’t do it for me. But strangely enough, I was invested enough in Hazel’s story that by the time I did realize this was a time travel story, I was willing to ignore that element and see how things unfolded.
The biggest thing that jumped out at me, however, was the lack of sense about era. The locations (Marin County/San Francisco and Martha’s Vineyard) seemed all right, but the absent grounding in time was jarring. It wasn’t so much the scenes taking place in present time that were the issue, but the majority of the book takes place in the past. Nearly two decades in the past. It struck me as peculiar that no contrasts or differences were noticed on the part of Hazel. I wasn’t expecting hijinks, but eighteen years is a long time especially in terms of technology and pop culture — both things that I think are reasonable for a teenager to keep abreast of.
I had a brief DNW moment in the beginning when we were introduced to Hazel’s love interest because it was initially believed he was one person when in reality he turned out to be someone else. (Keeping it vague to avoid spoilers here.) Thank goodness! So if anyone picks up this book and encounters that point in the narrative, I can safely assure you not to worry. It’s not what you think it is. Maybe I should have had more faith that a writer would not go in that direction but we’ve been exposed to enough books with taboo-breaking premises and couplings here at Dear Author that I no longer believe anything is out of bounds. On the other hand, perhaps because of that initial response, I never warmed up to the romantic storyline and thought it superfluous and tacked on.
I did think Hazel was a bit slow on the uptake when it came to the circumstances surrounding her birth mother. But I also believe people can grow so enamored with the idea of a person that they fail to see the reality. That said, I really do think she should have realized the truth a little sooner than she did.
I don’t know if it’s because this premise and particular kind of story is so well-known in the SF genres but I wasn’t especially surprised by any of the plot. Even the average moviegoer will probably know the plotline where someone goes back in time to change things but the more they do, the more they bring the present-day to come to pass. I do wish there had been a few more surprises in the narrative since it’s such a well-trodden concept.
I think reader response to this book will depend on their fondness for this kind of plot. If you want a story about traveling back into the past, to possibly change the present but instead keep coming closer to bringing it to pass, then this is exactly the book for you. But if you want a few twists and turns along the way, you might want to pick up something else. I will also say that as a result of the resolution — to both Hazel’s vacation in the past and her romantic subplot — the novel left me with a bittersweet feeling. It fit the story well, but readers wedded to the idea of an HEA might not be so keen. C