How to make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Books
Released: 2 May 2017
Read: 23 April 2017
There are elements of this young adult novel that I enjoyed immensely, despite one major trope with which I struggle. A neglectful parent is a particularly difficult representation, and for it to work, it must be handled delicately and with care, and I am not totally convinced by this one.
Maggie, Grace’s mother, is a woman who lost her way when her husband died, and has done very little in the intervening 15 years to get herself together, and parent her child with support and love. Grace is often the adult, looking after Maggie when she goes on benders, or walks out on her latest boyfriend. Grace makes sure the bills are paid, and cleans their house. She has basically been raising herself. Luckily, she has a best friend Luca who stands by her, as does Luca’s brother Macon, and their mother Emmie.
Grace is a dedicated pianist, and has plans to audition for music colleges and leave. Sort of. A sub plot involves Grace’s indecision about her future. These swings back and forth (actually, about almost everything about Grace’s life) is a strong realistic part of the story. Grace desperately wants to live her dream, and leave her mother’s unpredictability behind. But can she trust that Maggie will be able to look after herself? Experience has shown Grace probably not.
Another sub plot involves Grace’s love life. When Eva moves to town after the sudden death of her mother, Grace feels a strong attraction. There is a terrific discussion about bi-sexuality at one point in the novel, which was extremely pleasing to see. The obstacles to their love are not Grace’s reluctance to identify as bi or Eva’s sexuality (she is definitely gay). It’s more about Eva’s grief, and Maggie’s sudden interest in ‘saving’ her. Grace knows her mother will ultimately let Eva down, and she’s caught between loyalty for her mother, and her need to warn Eva. These kinds of conflicts keep the novel gritty and real, and stop it from falling into a ‘just a romance’ label.
While I understood Grace’s dilemma—it’s okay for her to criticise her own mother, but not for anyone else—I was also impatient with how much leeway she gives this woman. Maggie has moved them into a new house with a new man who happens to be the father of an ex boyfriend of Grace who shamed her on social media when Grace broke up with him. This is another interesting subplot. What Jay does is unforgivable, and results in Grace being even more alienated from her peers. When Jay slowly learns the truth about life with Maggie (it’s truly awful), the author attempts to redeem him, and yet, when the opportunity arises for him to apologise to Grace for his treatment, an action that would have gone a long way to raise his status in readers’ eyes, it doesn’t happen. He rescues Grace, then is off on his merry way, seemingly unaware of how hurtful his past actions had been. I was disappointed.
I accept that Grace had to reach the conclusion herself that Maggie is the only one who can save Maggie, but given how much emotional abuse Grace has endured, I am surprised it didn’t happen earlier. When Eva tries to say, ‘at least your mother is still here’, it’s a moment of clarity for the two girls, and for readers. There are many moments of hurt and healing here, but unfortunately, I didn’t believe a lot of them. But there are also many other strong elements – the small coastal town setting, especially the lighthouse and its recurring motifs, Grace’s dedication to her passion, and the depiction of her friendship with Luca, which is flawed but true. There is also a strong message about grief—there is no right, or only one way to grieve. Everyone must be allowed to find their own way through it (unless of course, it means someone else has to suffer, Maggie!)
Copy was provided by the publisher via Netgalley and read with thanks. Out on May 2nd (in the US). Recommended for readers who love their protagonists strong, despite external and extenuating factors, who like their romance sensual, like a slow burning fuse, sparking in fits and starts, and the banter is flirty. And for readers who realise that life is not always happy and fair. Grace’s ability to endure, and then take positive steps to look after herself is a triumph. Eva’s despair is as real, and Emmie, as the adult who attempts to help both girls, is welcome and much appreciated.