Be Careful What You Wish For…
© 1993 by Parachute Press. Cover Art by Tim Jacobus.
This book was a bit of a mess. It’s a premise that’s been done before, and unfortunately, this was not a unique take. I really wanted to like the protagonist, Samantha Byrd. She was awkward, clumsy, and a favorite target of Judith, the resident Middle School mean girl. She was easy to sympathize with to a point, but she ultimately learned nothing throughout the course of the book. Sympathy gets tedious when there’s no growth. It also didn’t help that the twists were predictable. The motives of the magic woman Clarissa were confusing at best. I feel like there’s got to be a simpler way to say thank you to a kind but confused child. All of this led to an ending that just felt cruel from a thematic perspective, even if it did finally deliver a weird left turn that I didn’t see coming.
If you enjoy my blog, please consider liking my reviews on GoodReads.
It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!
Ermahgerd #12: Be Careful What You Wish For…
© 2019 by Daniel Stalter. All rights reserved.
Photo Collaboration with Daniel Stalter & Lindsay Pacelli.
Observations & Spoilers
I’m going to start this with a motivational speech for Samantha because the moral arc of this story did not end in her favor.
Samantha Byrd. I get it. Middle School is a shitty place for awkward kids, and you really do check all of the boxes. I feel for you, but girl… you managed to learn absolutely nothing over the course of making three terrible wishes. You even got a bonus fourth wish, and you still fucked it up! You can learn to own that awkwardness. Even if you can’t see it yet, that is a very attainable goal. Take it from a 30-something comic book writer who does extensive blog reviews on Goosebumps books. Forget about Judith. Don’t let her define you. Let her peak in High School. Focus on you. Because if you don’t learn how to help yourself, shit’s always gonna be a mess. I’ll let RuPaul take it from here.
The book kicked off when Samantha was granted three wishes for being kind and helping the old woman Clarissa find her way across town. As a sign of gratitude, Clarissa granted Sam three wishes. This immediately overwhelms our awkward protagonist, who is fresh out of failing miserably at basketball practice. Her arch-enemy, Judith, keeps telling her to “fly away, Byrd.” So she wishes to be the best player on her team. The shocking twist you would never expect: everyone else on the basketball team just gets worse. A whole lot worse. So bad that the other girls seem to start withering away and Sam fears she might have killed them.
Sam becomes exasperated by the turn of events and exclaims “I wish everyone would just go away!” At this, Clarissa suddenly appears behind her and takes it as a wish before Sam can protest. Not only was this sudden appearance contrived, but it felt like taking a cheap shot at someone she wanted to show gratitude. This move really calls into question Clarissa’s true motives. Furthermore, Clarissa did nothing to caution Sam about the perils of the magic until the third and final wish. She did not explain it all.
After everyone disappears, Sam makes a third and final wish to bring everyone back. The only catch is she wants Judith to think that she is the best person in the world. The result is one of the more entertaining aspects of the book. Judith shows up to school wearing her hair just like Sam, insists on carrying her books everywhere, and makes a huge embarrassing scene of it. This culminates in her sleeping in Sam’s closet so that they can do math homework together. As fun as this was, Sam anticipated none of it. So Clarissa appears again to grant Sam a fourth wish. Can you guess how she’ll fuck up this time?
Sam’s final wish is to have never met Clarissa. In fact, she wishes that Judith had met her instead. From this Samantha watches as Judith and Clarissa speak. Then the next thing Sam knows, she’s flying. Then she swoops down and eats a worm. Because Judith made her first wish: “Fly away, Byrd.” I’ll admit, I did not see that twist coming. It was very on-brand for Goosebumps’ weirdness. And in a sense, Sam got what she wanted. She was no longer tall and clumsy, but graceful enough to fly. Cue the end credits music:
These books aren’t typically steeped in moral arcs. They’re meant to be fun and weird, not necessarily to teach a thematic lesson. But The Haunted Mask showed us that they are capable of such, and by that measure, this ending of this one just felt cruel. The mean girl got what she wanted without doing anything to earn it. Maybe the moral arc was meant to teach kids that the world is unfair and unforgiving. That justice is arbitrary and favors the privileged? If that were the case, maybe this was a darker book than I thought.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each.
I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are:
Concept: the strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes
The concept for this one was simple and straightforward. It was also pretty obvious and had an unclear thematic arc. Kudos for the twisted end I didn’t see coming, though.
Between Clarissa’s confusing motives and Sam’s inability to apparently learn anything, the book just felt repetitive and confusing. Even the big twist ending didn’t make a lot of sense. Wouldn’t it have required Judith to be nice and help an old lady to get those wishes? Couldn’t they just as well have backfired on her?
Samantha was awkward in an endearing way. Judith was awful in a familiar way. They were familiar archetypes, but they worked in this story scenario. The character that doesn’t work is Clarissa. Her motives were a mess and her appearances (and disappearances) were contrived. There must be a simpler way to thank someone who is nice to you.
The terrifying experience of a middle school girls’ basketball team playing badly will live with me forever. Jokes aside; I did like creepy Judith camping out in Samantha’s bedroom, but it was more funny than scary. Everyone disappearing could have had an impact had it not been so obvious.
This has been done before in more ways than I could count, This wasn’t a particularly unique take.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• This was an overall improvement on the book, which is a low bar. But still one of the better adaptations I’ve seen.
• Perfect casting job on Samantha and Clarissa. They really nailed both the awkward and mysterious.
• Another questionable moral problem in this story; Clarissa was kinda creepy and Sam just walked out into the middle of nowhere with her.
• The girl’s basketball game with everyone playing badly was a lot of fun.
• I liked Sam wishing that everyone would just “buzz off” and turn everyone into flies. It was a better take than everyone disappearing in the book.
• LOL at Judith wanting to learn how to throw the basketball underhand so she could be more like Sam.
• This was definitely a better ending for Sam. Judith’s first wish was to have everyone adore and worship her, and she promptly turned into a statue.
Don’t miss the next blog in this series:
Goosebumps #13: Piano Lessons Can Be Murder
Also, be sure to check out the latest from the Pulp Horror companion blog series:
Christopher Pike’s Monster