5 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar

The Art of WishingTitle: The Art of Wishing

Author: Lindsay Ribar

Genre: Contemporary, Fantasy, Young Adult

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 2013
Hardcover: 314 Pages

He can grant her wishes, but only she can save his life.

Margo McKenna has a plan for just about everything, from landing the lead in her high school play to getting into a good college. So when she finds herself in possession of a genie’s ring and the chance to make three wishes, she doesn’t know what to do. Why should she put her life into someone else’s hands?

But Oliver is more than just a genie — he’s also a sophomore at Margo’s high school, and he’s on the run from a murderer. As he and Margo grow closer, she discovers that it will take more than three wishes to save him.

A whole lot more.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher

Format (e- or p-): Print

Why did I read this book: To be honest, I saw this book when it first came out and immediately dismissed it. The book description is so cheesy, and contemporary YA and I don’t tend to click very well. That said, I’ve been hearing good things about this book from trusted sources – not to mention The Art of Wishing is one of the books and Lindsay Rebar is one of the authors featured on the panel I’m moderating at New York Comic Con NEXT WEEK. (OHMYGOD IT IS NEXT WEEK!) Needless to say, I had to read this immediately.


Eighteen year old Margo McKenna has her senior year firmly under control. She’s nails her audition for her high school production of Sweeney Todd and knows she’s a lock for the role of Mrs. Lovett. (Not to mention, she’s got a crush on the only guy who could possibly play her on-stage counterpart, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.) So, when Margo learns that she has lost the role to a meek sophomore nobody, Vicky, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Despite the intense disappointment, however, Margo is resolved to be gracious in defeat and do the very best she can in her role (Toby – a lead, but one with far less stagetime and songs). Still, she can’t shake the feeling that something very strange is going on – suddenly everyone wants to be Vicky’s friend, never mind the fact she has all the charisma and acting ability of an automaton.

And then, there’s the kicker.

After a particularly dismal rehearsal (dismal because of Vicky’s wooden performance, not so much Margo’s), Margo interrupts a distressed Vicky in the theater restroom – when Vicky abruptly leaves, she also leaves behind a curious ring. Which Margo, of course picks up.

This is no ordinary lamp ring. It once changed the course of a young man’s life. A young man, who, like this lamp ring, was more than what he seemed. A diamond in the… ok, ok, I’ll stop with the Disney snark – although it honestly is quite àpropos, given the irreverent, funny tone of The Art of Wishing. But I digress –

The ring summons a boy named Oliver to the bathroom – another innocuous, nondescript sophomore. Except that Oliver is no ordinary young man; he’s actually an honest-to-goodness genie. And Margo is his new master, with three wishes to make of her very own. Wishes with limitations, of course, but magical, impossible wishes nonetheless. The only catch is that Oliver has to skip town soon because someone from his (very long) past is out to kill him – Margo has to make her wishes count, and make them quickly. Of course, there’s also the slight problem that she’s falling for Oliver…

The debut novel from Lindsay Ribar, The Art of Wishing is… a mixed bag. At best, it’s charming, irreverent, and fun. At other times, however, it raises some uncomfortable questions about choice and agency, and the book ends in a way that doesn’t sit well with me at all. But I’m getting ahead of myself again – let’s start with the good.

On the positive side, The Art of Wishing stars a wonderful heroine, who is smart, ambitious, and dedicated. I loved Margo’s spunk, her confidence in her abilities as a singer and actress, and her take-no-prisoners attitude towards becoming the best at her role in the play (even though it’s a role she’s not initially excited to have). I love a heroine with gumption and flexibility, and Margo has both of those qualities in spades. I also very much appreciate how Margo handles her crush on Oliver – and what happens when she learns that he is not sixteen, but a decidedly Edward Cullen-esque 200 years old.

That night in the parking lot came rushing back to me – the streetlights, the cold, Oliver’s eyes. Except this time, I was picturing rotting zombie lips, slowly moving toward my own. I shuddered.

“I’m not undead. I promise.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Okay, then you’re a dirty old man who tells people he’s a teenager. Except in real life instead of online. And with magical powers.”

Spunk and awesomeness, right?

Except… Margo’s attitude towards the creepy 200 year old dude masquerading as a sixteen year old? It doesn’t really last. Margo and Oliver are passionately smooching smooches of tingly genie magic within a chapter or two following this big reveal. You see, Oliver reveals that he generally picks the brains of his masters and becomes what they want or need of him. Oh yeah, did I mention that he and Margo have a master-genie psychic connection? Oliver can sense what Margo wants – to aid him with the wish-granting, of course, but it also comes in handy when he knows Margo wants more kissing.

This raises a big question of agency and servitude, of power and submissiveness – but none of these questions are tackled in the text. Oliver is content to be a genie because it’s rewarding and happy-making for him. If he’s wished free, he will literally cease to exist, so he’s happiest serving someone worthy of his magic. This smacks of deeply problematic connotations – the “happy slave” problem, all over again. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that Oliver says he makes himself whatever his masters want – brother, sister, lover. How is this not creepy? Not only is Oliver nearly 200 years old, but he also shapeshifts and molds his personality to become whatever his master desires each time. Once again, with feeling: I say this is CREEPY.

This is to say nothing of the fact that Margo is not troubled at all by her first wish (gaining an ability which she never had talent before).[1. Perhaps just my opinion, but doesn’t that kind of wish-making kind of … well, cheapen the gains one gets from that ability? If a mediocre running back suddenly becomes Adrian Peterson, isn’t that cheating? I suppose it’s a matter of perspective.] Nor have I said anything about the similarities between this book and Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series, which stars a professional warden (who is decidedly NOT a teenager), and who has a romantic relationship with a djinn. The Art of Wishing, to me, seems to borrow very heavily from Caine’s Ill Wind – especially in its ending. The only problem here is that The Art of Wishing isn’t nearly as good (I don’t hold this against The Art of Wishing as the Weather Warden series, despite its missteps, is one of my very favorite series’ of all time).

Which brings me to one of the two main issues I had with the book: the ending. I’m really, intensely uncomfortable with the way the book ends and the choice that this heroine makes (think… Twilight level badness). The series has just begun, so I’m not sure where Ribar will take this heroine, and what types of ramifications she might suffer for this choice, but I dearly hope there ARE consequences. As it stands, I’m very uncomfortable with this particular ending.

The second part of my dissatisfaction lies with the motivation for one character’s killing of ALL THE GENIES. It’s a lame reason. I won’t spoil it but… the mystery angle isn’t particularly well developed, let’s leave it at that.

Overall, The Art of Wishing is competent and charming at turns, but the thematic undertones and genie rules/worldbuilding in general make me extremely wary. I’m curious to see what happens next in the series, but I won’t be waiting on the edge of my seat.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From the prologue:

The plan was this: I’d get up on that stage, blow them away with the best damn audition they’d ever seen, and walk out knowing the part I wanted was mine.

And when I was called into the auditorium, that was exactly how it happened.

I walked over to the piano and handed my sheet music to George. “You know this one?” I asked him.

He peered quickly at the title. Nodded and said, “Yup.” Of course he did. Silly question.

George flexed his fingers, and I strode up the little side staircase and onto the stage. Bright lights flooded my face, but I was used to that. I shielded my eyes so I could focus on the lone figure sitting in the first row: Miss Delisio, math teacher by day and play director by night. I smiled warmly at her. This was the woman who was going to cast me in my dream role.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Rating: I am torn when it comes to this book because somethings are done well, but some things are so problematic. I’ll stick with a 5 – Meh for now.

Reading Next: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Buy the Book:

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  • Paige
    October 2, 2013 at 1:35 am

    I think that Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni would be an excellent antidote for the problems you mention above (specifically, the lack of focus on agency, and the lackluster mystery).

  • Thea
    October 2, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Paige – I’ve heard good things about The Golem and the Jinni and definitely have it on my radar! Thanks for the rec!

  • Hannah H
    October 2, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    It’s worth trying the Bartimaeus Trilogy too- it’s all about the power dynamics between the magicians and the djinn, and how an almost all powerful being thousands of years old manages to deal with a 12 year old kid who does have the power to destroy him. It’s a very dark (but very funny) middle-grade series, and I highly recommend it.

  • Jana
    October 2, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    I agree with Hannah: The Bartimaeus series is absolutely worth reading, if you haven’t gotten to it already. Jonathan Stroud handles the questions of power and servitude (and the ramifications of both) extremely well, without any icky Twilight-level creepiness or questionable character motivations.

  • Jennifer @ A Librarian's Library
    October 5, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    What?! This book is a series?! Man, I read this when it came out and had very similar thoughts to yours. On the one hand, it was an engaging story. On the other hand, it was….weird. And I completely agree about the ending!

    And now it’s a series? oh jeez, consider me turned off.

  • Jennifer @ A Librarian's Library
    October 5, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I had the same feelings about this book. On the one hand, it was an engaging story. On the other, there were a lot of things that really bugged me. And the ending was…..yeah.

    And it’s a series?!?!?! I read it when it came out under the assumption it was a standalone!

    I am officially turned OFF!

  • Updates from the Lair 10/06/13
    January 17, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    […] The Art of Wishing from The Book Smugglers – this one looked cute, but maybe not for me. […]

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