In How to Make a Wish, Nashville author Ashley Herring Blake’s second novel for young adults, seventeen-year-old Grace Glasser has a dream and a problem. Her dream is to become a concert pianist. Her problem is her mother, Maggie. Grace’s dad was killed in Afghanistan when she was two, and Maggie has never truly recovered from the grief. With her alcoholism now spiraling out of control, Maggie swings between manic optimism and debilitating depression.
Over the years, Grace has learned how to care for her mother—cleaning up her messes, moving with her from crummy apartment to crummy boyfriend, protecting her from barroom predators, turning a blind eye as Maggie lies to her and steals from her. In short, she follows her mother from one hopeless situation to the next, all the time desperately wanting to be parented herself:
She steers with her knee for a few terrifying seconds while she digs a cigarette out of her purse and sparks it up. She blows out a silver stream of smoke through the open window, and I watch her fingers. Long and elegant, her short nails perfectly manicured and glossed eggplant purple, like always. She used to press our fingers together, kissing the joined tips and making a silly wish on each one. I would measure my hand against hers, eagerly waiting for the day when mine was the same size. I thought that the older I got, the older she would get and the less I’d have to worry about her.
Luckily, Grace has a support system in the form of her best friend, Luca Michaelson, and his caring mother. The Michaelson family owns LuMac’s, a popular diner in Cape Katherine, the coastal village in Maine where they all live. When Grace returns from a summer piano workshop in Boston, she is shocked to find that Maggie has moved them into yet another boyfriend’s home. This time it’s Pete, the new lighthouse keeper.
For Grace, it’s bad enough that her possessions are now overflowing from poorly packed boxes onto a dirty garage floor. What’s much worse is that Pete’s son, who occupies the room right across the hall, is her own ex-boyfriend. And to say that things did not end well between them is an understatement.
As if all that isn’t enough, Grace comes home to discover that the Michaelsons have taken in a different damaged teen, the daughter of an old friend. Eva Brighton is a sixteen-year-old dancer from Brooklyn whose mother recently died, leaving her grief-stricken and disoriented. When Grace happens upon a crying and disheveled Eva on the beach, she is surprised to find herself feeling drawn to her. Soon they begin a tentative friendship born of mutual distress and a surprising physical attraction.
For a loner like Grace, the intensity of this friendship is a new experience: “I’ve had a handful of friends here and there, but with the ebb and flow of my existence, it was easier to keep my world as small as possible. Less explaining. Less lying to cover up why I’d moved again. Less worrying about what totally messed-up situation I’d encounter when I brought a friend home.”
But Grace is not Eva’s only new friend. In a sincere if misguided attempt to offer comfort, Maggie has made it her mission to bond with the teen over their mutual loss of a loved one. And Eva responds to this mother figure’s kindness and willingness to share her own pain, not realizing the full extent of Maggie’s dysfunction. Soon Grace must choose between keeping her mother’s dark secrets and protecting Eva from Maggie’s bad judgment.
Grace, who identifies as bisexual, can’t deny that she is developing feelings for Eva that go beyond friendship. “We stand there in silence for a while,” Grace narrates. “Next to me, Eva inhales deeply and lets it out slowly, her breath matching the rolling waves below us. I try to think of something else to say, but, weirdly, it feels needless, like the words would be intrusive. It’s a peaceful kind of silence. Easy. And dammit if it isn’t nice to let something be easy.”
In How to Make a Wish, Ashley Herring Blake deftly describes the highs and lows of a burgeoning teen love affair as Grace and Eva quietly navigate the uncertain waters of an intimate relationship while facing personal problems that would challenge adults of any age.
A graduate of Auburn University, Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.
Tagged: 2017 Southern Festival of Books, Ashley Herring Blake, Children & YA