Fifteen-year old Genna Colon believes wishes can come true. Frustrated by the drug dealers in her building, her family’s cramped apartment, and her inability to compete with the cute girls at school, Genna finds comfort in her dreams of a better future. Almost every day she visits the garden and tosses coins into the fountain, wishing for a different life, a different home, and a different body. Little does she know that her wish will soon be granted: when Genna flees in to the garden late one night, she makes a fateful wish and finds herself instantly transported back in time to Civil War-era Brooklyn.
This book was originally self-published (I’m not sure if that’s still the case now). I do not understand why no publishing house picked it up. There’s no good reason for it. The protagonist is awesome, the story is engaging as hell (I read this in an entire day and I don’t do that often), and Zetta Elliott is a wonderful writer.
I absolutely loved Genna and her story. Hell, Genna IS the story; without her, there is no way I could have fallen in love with the book as much as I did, because I needed to fall in love with her first. On the outside, she’s quiet and reserved, but on the inside she’s teeming with thoughts, opinions, hopes, dreams, wishes, and everything in between. She’s from the ghetto and it forms a lot of her identity, but she wants to leave it behind and make a better life for herself and her family. She’s a smart, independent, and determined person, and those qualities serve her in good stead in her present-day tough, Brooklyn neighborhood and in 1863’s Brooklyn that’s experiencing draft and race riots.
It’s through Genna and Zetta Elliott’s excellent writing that both the present and the past come alive. I enjoy historical fiction, but sometimes it’s too easy to focus more on the historical facts and minutiae than on the people involved in the events occurring, when it’s the people’s involvement that determines the very history the authors are writing about. Here, it is all about the people and their experiences in navigating the world they live in. This is especially true of Genna, whose body is literally transformed into that of a supposed runaway slave’s, brutally jarring her perception of herself and what she needs to do survive as a young, black woman in the midst of the Civil War.
I love books about people. Obviously, people should always be an important, if not the most important part of a book, since that’s what they’re about, but for some reason, many authors seem to forget or ignore that. And I love books about people making connections with other people, which Genna did plenty of. And all of the characters were as multifaceted and engaging as the world in which they lived in.
The one thing I didn’t particularly care for was the path Genna and Judah’s relationship took. I didn’t find it believable that Genna and Judah’s love was that deep or meaningful such that, in the end, Genna was willing to follow Judah wherever he went. Throughout the book, it always felt like Genna’s attraction to Judah was based more off the fact that he was new and different while he always seemed more interested in having Genna agree with his beliefs rather than valuing her for the person she already was, complete with her own opinions and beliefs. Not that she doesn’t express those things to Judah, but there’s no real agreement or compromise between the two of them. I guess that’s why I couldn’t fully invest in their relationship – what they want out of their lives are so fundamentally different from each other, it doesn’t seem likely to me that they can really reconcile them.
Also, I’d be lying if I said I was completely ok with how time travel was used. I’d have liked the actual use of time travel a whole lot better if it actually had a cause and/or an explanation for why it occurred. As it stands, the time travel is a convenient plot device that takes Genna back in time. I’m able to forgive it mostly because Genna spends less time thinking about why she’s back in time and more time making sure she’s able to survive.
Still, I loved this book. A lot. While I am sad it had to be self-published to exist, because it more than deserves to be sold in all bookstores and placed in every library, I am glad that it exists regardless. I already want to go back and reread it, just to hear Genna’s story all over again. It’s one that’s worth preserving and sharing to anyone. Essentially, this is quality fiction and quality YA fiction, and everyone should read it.
Disclosure – library