I received this book for free from the Publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Down With the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn
Published by HarperTeen on April 26 2016
Genres: Young adult, Fantasy
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss
The nitty-gritty: Potential not quite realized, but a fantastic premise full of hilarious dialogue and some hard-hitting emotional moments near the end.
And once again a cool cover and a really good idea grab my attention and I immediately hit that “request” button! Down with the Shine does have a great concept: a girl is able to grant wishes when toasting with her uncles’ home-brewed (and illegal) moonshine. But you know how the saying goes…”Be careful what you wish for.” And that’s exactly what Kate Karyus Quinn explores in this hysterical, but uneven, YA fantasy—all the ways wishes can go bad. The story is told in first person by Lennie Cash, a teen girl who lives with her crazy mother and three uncles. Lennie’s voice was one of my favorite parts of the story. She’s an underdog. Her classmates keep their distance because she’s the daughter of that Cash—a wanted criminal who left his family after a crime spree to avoid being caught by the police. Lennie hasn’t seen her dad in years, but that’s OK, because her uncles look out for her. Lennie only has a handful of friends, a boy named Larry who she’s known since childhood, and her best friend Dylan, who was unfortunately kidnapped and murdered several months before the story begins.
So you can image how thrilled Lennie is when she’s invited to popular girl Michaela Gordon’s Labor Day party. But Lennie wants more than just a party invite—she wants her classmates to remember her. And so she (unwisely) drugs her uncles and steals a few jars of their famous moonshine. Surely this will make her the life of the party, right?
But Lennie’s plan backfires in a big way. After making a splash at the party by telling her classmates to “make a wish” while toasting each of them, she’s horrified to discover that somehow she’s managed to grant the wishes for real. Lennie wakes up from a drunken slumber (when you toast fifty or so of your friends, you’re bound to get wasted!) only to find Michaela’s house a virtual war zone. A boy with bat wings is flying around outside; random party-goers are being turned into Cheetos and disappearing in a cloud of cheese dust; and worst of all, no one is able to leave the house without experiencing physical pain. Lennie knows she’s going to need her uncles’ help to reverse the wishes, and so she sets off on a mad-cap adventure with Dylan’s brother Smith—the boy she has a secret crush on—to figure out how to set things right.
The book starts out strong as we’re introduced to Lennie’s unusual family, who I immediately fell for—her uncles may be red-necks with an underground moonshine business, but they’re full of heart and truly care for Lennie. When they discover what Lennie’s done at Michaela’s party, they reluctantly explain their family secret—the ability to grant wishes is passed down through the generations. Somehow Lennie’s got the ability, but that gift comes with a price. It isn’t long before her dad shows up, trying to figure out a way to use Lennie and her wish-making talent for his own gain. The idea of taking responsibility for one’s actions is a perfect theme for the young adult crowd—well, let’s face it, it’s a perfect theme for anyone! So I loved seeing her struggle to find the answers, making mistakes along the way.
The author’s biggest talent, though, is her perfect comedic timing and hysterically funny dialogue, and the situation of wishes going wrong simply begs for hysterics. For example, when one of Lennie’s classmates winds up with literal balls of steel (um, yeah, think about that one for a moment), he’s eager to explain to the gang just how happy he is about it:
“But I’ll tell you this. Everything down here”—his hands draw a big round circle around his crotch—“is working the way it should. Seems like the boys are only encased in steel. Sorta like M&M’s, you know? Melts in your—”
“Hey, look! Smith’s waking up!” I announce in my loudest voice. This is finally enough to shut W2 up.
I also loved the moment when Lennie’s father comes into the story, and this is precisely when the story turns very dark. Lennie’s dad is pure evil, a man who isn’t above killing and torture in order to get what he wants. Lennie gives us glimpses into her horrific childhood as the daughter of a criminal, forced to go along with him on bank robberies and such, and those heartbreaking moments elevated Down with the Shine from a lighthearted comedy to something more tragic.
By this point you might be wondering what’s wrong with the book, since I seem to be gushing about it. Unfortunately, it did have some issues. For one thing, the second half of the book is much stronger than the first. The first half spends way too much time at the party, where Lennie’s mangled wishes are simply ridiculous. When one boy makes a wish to have “the Cheetos touch” (instead of the Midas touch), everything he touches, including his hapless classmates, turns to Cheetos dust. Yes, that’s right. Death by Cheetos. I can’t even. It’s this type of middle grade humor that usually turns me off a book, and that was the case here. It wasn’t until the second half, when shit started to get serious, that I felt the author was back on her game.
Some of the relationships between the characters bothered me as well. Lennie’s best friend Larry, a boy she’s known since they were little kids, felt way too “goodie two shoes” to be friends with Lennie. I just didn’t believe for a second that the two had enough in common to enjoy being together. (Plus I kept thinking of the cookie company Lenny and Larry’s and every time I read their names together, it took me out of the story!) A couple of the more interesting characters simply didn’t get enough page time. Dylan, Lennie’s murdered friend, comes back to life because of a wish, which was actually a fantastic set-up for some great character development. Unfortunately, either because of the length of the book or because there was just too much going on, the author couldn’t fully explore the weird friendship between Lennie and Dylan. I also wanted to know more about Lennie’s mom, who has a very cool back story, but unfortunately her scenes are way too short. I wouldn’t have minded another fifty pages or so to fill in some of the missing pieces.
I haven’t even got to the romance yet! I’ll keep it brief and say there is a romance between Lennie and Smith, and as sweet as it was, it really felt like it belonged in a different book. Again, it just didn’t get the careful development it needed to be believable.
I also have to mention that there were parts of the book that felt badly edited to me. I’m not sure if this had to do with the fact that I was reading a proof copy, but I was confused in several spots because it felt as if whole paragraphs were left out. The characters would react in strange ways that didn’t make sense, as if I had skipped a page or two. Hopefully these parts were fixed before the final book went to print.
So do I recommend Down with the Shine? Absolutely! I know not all readers will have issues with the immature humor, and there are plenty of you out there who will love the romance as well. Kate Karyus Quinn has touched on some fascinating ideas and has created some memorable characters, and I look forward to her next book.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.