REVIEW: Just One Wish by Rachael Johns

In brief: Three generations of women, all very different, but each has a secret. Will it destroy their families?

The good: Brilliantly written with a fascinating plot.

The not-so-good: Like Ged, I am happy to leave Elvis pretty much alone.

Why I chose it: Always love Rachael Johns’ books, so I bought it first opportunity I had.

Year: 2019

Pages: 445

Publisher: HQ (Harper Collins)

Setting: Melbourne, Australia

Rating: 10 out of 10

I always love Rachael Johns’ novels – so much so, that I can confidently ‘save’ them for a time when I need a great read. This time, it was a reward post exams (I definitely couldn’t read it in the leadup because I suspected there would be prolonged reading periods and I was right). This is one of Rachael’s ‘life lit’ novels and it certainly does cover a range of different life experiences.

Just One Wish is told in the first person by Ged (short for Geraldine), a journalist in Melbourne. She’s been in a relationship with Christos for some time now and he chooses to tell her casually in bed that he’s thinking of getting back together with his wife. Ged is not impressed and leaves him then and there. At a family dinner, she’s trying to keep her hurt secret but her family has some news for her. Her grandmother Alice has booked Ged and mother Sappho (aka Marie) on an Elvis tribute cruise. It’s a little suspicious given that only Marie loves Elvis, but Ged has her own things to think about on the cruise after hooking up with Jay. Marie and her assistant Rosa are kept busy vlogging for Marie’s social media (she’s the Happy Happy Housewife, celebrating all things domestic). Alice is left to her own devices. On their return, everything becomes more complicated with all three women having at least one big secret which will affect all of them. Of course, all these secrets are revealed at various stages of the novel, with some incredible confrontations and tearjerker scenes. I did guess some of the twists and turns but I think some of it is because I’m trained to analyse things down to the last detail and it’s not something I can switch off! I did enjoy the ride to see if I was correct in my assumptions. Rachael’s novels are always a delight to read and it’s an honour to be welcomed into the world of her characters.

I think the characters of Just One Wish are some of the most memorable Rachael has written. Getting inside the head of Ged was a great experience and I could relate to some of her problems with career and life. Alice is just an awesome character, with her leather pants, physics background and feminist activist history. If I needed another grandmother, I would choose her. She is fascinating and pulls no punches (plus you have to love a grandma who drops the F-bomb into conversation and isn’t afraid to do things on her terms). Marie is the total opposite of Alice, as she has sought the stability of the traditional wife and family after an unconventional upbringing (having a single mother and two fathers). At first I was tempted to write her off as firmly stuck in an Elvis movie, but Marie develops inner strength and courage to express her feelings during the novel. Likewise, Ged’s dad seemed to be stuck in the 1950s himself, not knowing how to cook or wash or anything inside the house but he has a good heart. As for Ged’s romantic interests, Christos and Jay…my thoughts wavered on both. Christos says stupid things but his heart is ultimately in the right place. Jay came across as a bit of a tool at first for me with his black and white principles but as I got to know him, his complexity (and drive to go to Mars on a one-way ticket) made more sense. And grandfathers Craig and Phil are just delightful. In fact, every character in the book, right down to Ged’s dog Coco, is well thought out and constructed fully. They just become…real.

As the story moves on, the emotions soar higher and I dare anyone not to sniffle at least a little at the ending. The story is a great one of family and life in general. Definitely one to enjoy every spare minute you can (plus it would make a great TV series or movie).

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