Title: How to Make a Wish
Author: Ashley Herring Blake
Series: none; standalone
Genre: YA, contemporary, romance, LGBTQIAP+
Format: eARC via Netgalley
Synopsis: All seventeen year-old Grace Glasser wants is her own life. A normal life in which she sleeps in the same bed for longer than three months and doesn’t have to scrounge for spare change to make sure the electric bill is paid. Emotionally trapped by her unreliable mother, Maggie, and the tiny cape on which she lives, she focuses on her best friend, her upcoming audition for a top music school in New York, and surviving Maggie’s latest boyfriend—who happens to be Grace’s own ex-boyfriend’s father.
Her attempts to lay low until she graduates are disrupted when she meets Eva, a girl with her own share of ghosts she’s trying to outrun. Grief-stricken and lonely, Eva pulls Grace into midnight adventures and feelings Grace never planned on. When Eva tells Grace she likes girls, both of their worlds open up. But, united by loss, Eva also shares a connection with Maggie. As Grace’s mother spirals downward, both girls must figure out how to love and how to move on.
Despite all the hype surrounding this book, I still went in with mild expectations and a lukewarm attitude. But much to my enjoyment, I was left completely blown away. How to Make a Wish is utterly heartbreaking and filled with poignant beauty, it’s a story that is raw to its very edges and realistic to its core. Grace’s life is tragic and just plain difficult, and as a reader I really admired her constant persistence to just get through another day, another night. You will read this book and realize all the things you probably take advantage of without realizing it, but you will also see how Grace is the perfect example of every teenager in the modern world.
While this book seems to be marketed and categorized as a romance, I really feel like the heart of the story is Grace’s relationship with her mother. The romance is obviously present and plays a large role, but I think readers should know when they pick this up that it’s not the main focus. Personally, I think that’s why I enjoyed HtMaW so much. I love a cute contemporary romance if it’s done well, but it was nice to read about a familial relationship for once. I get tired of reading about the same silly tropes and the same insta-love romances, and HtMaW is anything but that. This book is intense, but it felt like I was reading about someone real.
What Grace experiences with her mom is, unfortunately, very common in today’s society. Maggie tries her best to show her daughter love and appreciation, but when it comes down to it, she really just doesn’t know how to be a parent. She makes repeated bad decisions and brings man after man into Grace’s life, only for it to result in disaster. The push-and-pull dynamic of their relationship – how Maggie tries to fix one mistake by creating another – is gut-wrenching to read about and often times even frustrating. But that feeling of frustration that the reader experiences is what makes this book so true; as a person on the outside looking in, the right decision just seems so easy to make, but to Grace and her mother the cycle is never-ending. For that reason, I think this book will speak to a lot of teenagers that can relate to Grace’s internal struggle to either prioritize herself and her life, or risk losing Maggie to her own disastrous choices.
“It seems so easy now, just to cry about it. Just to feel pissed off and cheated, to love my mother this damn much, but love myself a little more because I need to. I have to.”
On the bright side, the side-characters definitely help make up for the darker themes of this novel. Luca is a lot of fun, and his banter with Grace always brought a smile on my face, while Emmy has so much love and compassion that it’s impossible not to feel for her. Eva is also quirky and vibrant and filled with life, so that each character has a substantial role to play in the story. The sea-side setting creates the perfect atmosphere for the book, and I thought the author did a great job of making it refreshing and down-to-earth.
Grace and Eva’s relationship is also heartwarming to read. The way they bond over a shared lack of motherly love was interesting and expertly written. Eva and Grace battle with that eternal question of “Is it better to have a neglectful parent, or no parent at all?” I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer in this case, and the pair definitely find ways to cope with their loss and lean on each other during rough times. Also, while I can’t speak for the lesbian/bisexual rep in this book, I really loved how the author uses those specific terms when describing the sexuality of each girl. There’s no vague hinting or implied meaning – Grace and Eva both firmly embrace their identities in way that works perfectly with the story and strengthens their characters.
“Sometimes we dance around them, hinting at these two women – one dead, one alive, both lost – but we never quite land on them. Under the dark sky, we’re two motherless girls. We’re whoever we want to be.”
The plot moves quickly and doesn’t linger, so I was definitely able to read this book in a short period of time and never wanted to put it down. There were several twists that I wasn’t expecting, and the ending is completely satisfying. How to Make a Wish easily joined my list of all-time favorite contemporaries, and I highly recommend this to anyone looking for story about self-love, sacrifice, and finding the meaning of home when you never seem to have one.
Have you read How to Make a Wish? What did you think? What are some of your favorite YA books featuring a F/F romance, or a difficult family relationship?
Thanks so much to HMH books and Netgalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!