Down with the Shine, by Kate Karyus Quinn

I caught wind of this book a few months before its release and immediately added it to my to-read list. “Wishes gone bad” is one of those plot devices that I can easily get on board. Usually there’s a mischievous, incompetent, or extremely literal genie or other such magical being to blame. Down with the Shine stood out before I even read it because the cause of the wishes coming true was some moonshine at a house party, and the wishes made by the teens (or at least the ones revealed in the book blurb) ran the gamut from meaningful to hysterical. If the book description was that good of a first sip, then I was willing to take a big gulp.

Our narrator for this wild ride is Lennie Cash, and she’s had a difficult life. Her father is a most-wanted criminal, so she lives with her withdrawn, distant mother and her three uncles who distill and sell the titular moonshine. To complicate matters more, six months before the main events of the book, her best friend Dylan (Dyl, for short) was brutally murdered, and Dyl’s twin brother Smith holds a grudge.

This rich backstory is rolled out nicely at the start, and it provides several plausible reasons for Lennie to be an outsider to the social strata at school. Senior year is about to begin, and Lennie’s ready to say a big “screw you all!” to the popular clique by crashing Michaela’s annual party with her uncles’ moonshine in tow. Little does she know how screwed up everyone there is going to get!

The setup is brilliant. Lennie offers up sips of moonshine like she’s the queen of the party, making everyone do the little wish-making ritual she had observed her uncles doing when they sell the stuff. Lennie leaves the party, but at sunrise the next morning, ALL OF THE WISHES have come true, in that be-careful-what-you-wish-for, watch-the-proper-wording kind of way. Lennie’s in deep trouble with her uncles for reasons beyond simply stealing their moonshine, and there’s complete and utter chaos at Michaela’s house.

The chapters that took place at the party were so vividly described that I could see all the craziness so easily in my head. Author Quinn was clever in how she showed the variety of wishes: Lennie remembered who wished what upon seeing the aftermath. That made it more fun than going through everyone’s wish-making scenes. And the wishes had believable variety for teenagers—silly ones made by drunk or goofy kids, and serious ones made by kids longing for something missing in their life. Michaela had wished her party will never end. One boy made a messy wish concerning Cheetos. Lennie wished that Dyl had never died.

I won’t spoil them all, but the YA-mermaid author in me wishes (uh oh, I’d better be careful) to know more about the girl who wished for a mermaid tail. I also would have liked to know what happened to a popular girl’s overweight younger sister who wished to be smaller and was shrunk to pocket size but went missing (Note: a re-read of the scene gives a detail that now frightens me). It was the only instance of the wish being told instead of seeing the affected character. Seems a little unfair that one of the most poignantly made wishes could turn out so bad in an otherwise gloriously bizarre carnival of wishes gone wild.

Another element that worked so well was Lennie’s wish. I thought the ever-growing external chaos was a great metaphor for Lennie facing the internal torment of grief and guilt for Dyl’s death (especially now that she’s literally facing back-from-the-dead Dyl). How Quinn manages to resolve them both in the end was unexpected and satisfying, and it showed tremendous character growth. It rose above the “wishes can’t be undone” rule often found in these kind of stories; here it’s nicely explained by one of Lennie’s uncles.

I’ll suspend my disbelief for crazy wishes coming true, and I’ll do it for some of the arbitrary rules of wish-making, wish-granting, and wish-fixing. But I had trouble doing so with Lennie’s father. When he is ultimately introduced, his personality, actions, and motives seemed tonally different than the rest of the story. Though the backstory is somewhat necessary for Lennie’s character development, I felt like his appearance was one plot thread too many at the expense of fully developing the romance or staying at the party longer to deal with the wishes. Even the details of Dyl’s death are grisly and seem out of place; she probably could have died a number of different ways that still would’ve caused Lennie to feel guilt and/or grief.

Overall, the writing is sharp and vivid and witty and twisted (in a mostly good way), and Lennie’s growth is exceptionally handled. Though one character and the details surrounding him left a bad aftertaste, the rest of the book went down so smoothly, I’d wish for more to drink at that party. Down with the Shine wasn’t too hard to swallow at FOUR AND A HALF STARS.

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Down with the Shine is available at Amazon.

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