Just One Wish is the summer novel that reminds us that every family has a secret.

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On a recent weekend trip to Melbourne, I boarded a plane from Sydney and opened a book. I was in the mood to get lost in another world, with characters who would soon feel familiar and storylines that would have me frantically turning pages, desperate to know what happens next.

What I hadn’t expected was that I would genuinely struggle to put it down – and would spend my weekend away stealing moments of quiet to follow the lives of three generations of women.

Bestselling, ABIA (Australia Book Industry Awards) award-winning author Rachael Johns is particularly skilled when it comes to telling women’s stories. Somehow, she’s able to write like she’s 30, and 50, and 80, and paint complex relationships in a way that’s entirely recognisable to a reader.

Her new novel, Just One Wishis another testament to that skill. In the opening few pages, we’re introduced to three vastly different women.

Ged is a 30-year-old journalist in a happy relationship with a co-worker. She’s tenacious, independent, and loves her dog Coco like a baby.

Her mum, Sappho, is an influencer who goes by the name of “The Happy, Happy Housewife”, and preaches about the benefits of new domesticity. She says women lost their way when we tried to do it all, and perhaps what’s really needed is for us to go back to finding meaning in the home.

Sappho also has a brand new assistant to help with her growing fame, but her husband feels uneasy about a stranger spending so much time with the family.

Just One Wish
Just one moment, reading Just One Wish. Image: Harper Collins

Then there's Alice, Ged's grandmother - a scientist and feminist activist who's about to celebrate her 80th birthday. She had an unconventional road to motherhood, and still isn't quite sure how she ended up with Sappho for a daughter.

After a truly horrible day for Ged, which involves a brutal breakup and a disastrous trip home, things start to get even weirder: Alice has decided to take her daughter and granddaughter on an impromptu cruise, a decision that's entirely out of the ordinary.

What unfolds over the next few days will end up changing the course of the three women's lives, while simultaneously unravelling a life-long secret.

Set largely in Melbourne, Johns is able to make a foreign world feel instantly familiar. You either know Ged or are Ged, and her family and lifestyle will be quickly relatable to anyone who belongs to Gen Y.


Immediately striking is that Johns' writing reads as unmistakably current - exploring issues like sexuality and feminism in a way that reflects the conversations women are having today. What happens when you desperately want to put your career first, but then you fall in love? Or when you're preaching about the glory of being a housewife, while your idea of 'domestic bliss' is falling apart? Or when your brain is telling you to do one thing, while your heart is telling you to do the other?

It's hard not to identify with every character in Just One Wish, because there's elements of all of us in each of their experiences. We all have contradictions between the values we hold and the lives we lead, and we all look back - and forward - on our lives with palpable uncertainty.

Author Rachael Johns. Image via Harper Collins.
Author Rachael Johns. Image via Harper Collins.

But no matter how closely you're paying attention, you won't be able to predict where Just One Wish will go. It leaves you on your toes, wondering what decisions the characters will make, and where they'll ultimately lead them.

Throughout this journey, it's evident that Johns knows how to weave the experiences of different generations of women together, with nuance and sensitivity, understanding how competing contexts shape women's choices.

Like Johns' previous books - the award-winning The Patterson Girls and last year's moving read, Lost Without Youfor example - Just One Wish is the kind of book you pick up and can't put down for hours on end. An English teacher by day, Johns has a unmistakable talent for storytelling, while throwing a compelling romance in to hook us even further.

Exploring themes like motherhood, the roles of women, and lost love, Just One Wish will make you look at the women in your own life and wonder what stories they haven’t told.

It might also urge you to be the person they can trust with that story, before it’s too late.

For me, it's the book I finished just as I landed back in Sydney after a weekend away, wishing I could start it all over again.

Just One Wish is available to buy now at all good bookstores, as well as instore and online at BIG WApple Books and in audiobook on Audible.

HQ Fiction

HQ Fiction, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, are giving you a chance to WIN 1 OF 5 COPIES OF JUST ONE WISH for you and your book club for summer. Click here to enter now!

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