All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Just One Wish by Rachael Johns

Just One Wish
Rachael Johns
Harlequin AUS
2019, 436p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Three women, three secrets, one life-changing journey. Alice has always been a trailblazer as a scientist, activist, and mother. She knew her choices would involve sacrifices, but now, on the eve of her eightieth birthday, she’s beginning to wonder if she’s sacrificed too much.

Alice’s daughter Sappho rebelled against her unconventional upbringing, choosing to marry young and embrace life as a homemaker, but her status as a domestic goddess has recently taken a surprising turn.

Ged has always been the peacemaker between her grandmother and mother. A tenacious journalist she knows what she wants in life and love, yet when everything in her world starts falling apart, she begins to question whether she really knows anyone at all.

At a crossroads in each of their lives, Alice, Sappho and Ged embark on a celebratory trip together, but instead of bringing them closer, the holiday sparks life-changing consequences and lifts the lid on a fifty-year secret.

Can Ged rescue her family if their story is built on a betrayal?

In the interest of full disclosure, Rachael Johns is not only one of my favourite authors but she’s also what I’d call a close friend. We’ve talked on a regular basis for many years – from just before her first book, Jilted, was released. I’ve read all her books. I also help moderate her online Book Club on Facebook and so, I readily acknowledge that for me, I’m probably not the most impartial when it comes to reading her books. But I also had the chance to read this before it was published and provide some feedback with a few questions she was having about parts of the story, as a reader and as someone who regularly reviews books. So I like to think I’m also pretty honest too.

Just One Wish revolves around three generations of women from the same family – staunch feminist and grandmother Alice, her daughter Sappho (who goes by Marie), a proud purveyor of “new domesticity”, aka being a very traditional housewife, and Marie’s daughter Ged, a journalist. When Alice turns 80, she surprises her daughter and granddaughter with tickets to an Elvis cruise and for each of them, it reveals something very different in their lives. For Alice it’s about catching a glimpse of what she turned her back on many years ago, Marie comes to a shocking revelation about herself and Ged’s life takes a new turn both professionally, as she seeks to write Alice’s memoirs and also personally as she moves on from a relationship that has broken down.

Each of the women are at different stages in their lives – Alice has recently retired, for reasons that become clear later in the story and Marie is discovering a career for the first time, growing her social media following about new domesticity. Ged is looking forward to a promotion but soon finds that life has other plans for her. The thing that I so enjoyed about this was the complex issues the three women are facing that blend together perfectly to create a cohesive narrative that doesn’t feel too crammed or overcrowded. The women are very different and at times there is conflict but the relationships they have despite their differences and the decisions they sometimes make, hold the story together. Alice was one of the early feminists, well known for raising Marie as a single mother holding down a full time job and also finding time to campaign for women’s rights. She’s lived a fascinating and worthy life but it hasn’t been without its downsides. Her daughter felt the sting of being raised in a situation that was still frowned upon and instead of embracing the rights that Alice fought so hard for, has seemingly regressed back to a 1950s housewife, cooking and cleaning for her husband. Her two children are grown and have left the nest and seemingly by accident, Ged’s hooking Marie up on instagram has made her a sensation. She’s now well known and does YouTube videos on how she keeps her happy home. Alice and her have definitely had their differences – Alice never married and Marie is the very definition of a traditional housewife. But at the very core of it, Alice did everything she did for Marie so that she and other women like her might have the choice. What Marie/Sappho discovers about herself rocks a lot of people I think, and it’s something that I think was portrayed very well, both with Marie’s back and forth over it and internal agony and also the views and thoughts of those around her, as she goes through it.

Ged’s relationship with Alice is very special too and this was something I could relate to because I’m very close to the grandmother I have left in my life. She was a huge part of my childhood, I credit her for the reason I am the reader I am today. She always bought me books as a child and an avid reader herself, always encouraged me in the pursuit when others were telling me to get my head out of a book. Although probably not what would one would define as a feminist, she always worked, even during a time when it was unusual. Alice is clearly such a role model for Ged, someone that she really looks up to and admires as well as loves and she’s desperate to tell her story, for other people to be able to read about her and see her the way Ged does. I really enjoyed their bond, which is not without its little squabbles that family members have but ultimately Alice, Marie and Ged all support each other during the difficult times that come about in this story, even when they perhaps don’t agree with decision that have been made or are being made.

There’s romance here too (in several different forms actually) and not gonna lie, when I read this earlier I felt like I really knew where I wanted Ged to end up in the end and who with. I enjoyed it for the difference of it – two people who didn’t have that much in common, who had some arguments, who had some differences in what they wanted out of life. It wasn’t all smooth sailing and it’s definitely complicated by forces from other areas also but I liked the way it grew and changed and adapted and almost snuck up on them both. For me, it gave a real sense of realism, genuine connection that is made from working at it, listening to each other and growing and changing in ways that aren’t necessarily expected. And even though I enjoyed the romance, it’s not the core part of the story, it’s just like the glazed veggies that accompany your meal. Delicious, but not the bit that’s the most important. The three women, that’s the crucial part of the story. This book also contains the most perfect scene and I can’t talk about it because it’s such a spoiler. But it’s the incredible blend of happiness and heartbreak, old and new and love and grief.


Book #176 of 2019

Just One Wish is the 68th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019