I love a good second chances novel as much because it gives people the opportunity to change as the conflict inherent in knowing someone so well before but knowing them not at all now. This book adds in another factor where God plays a strong role in making it possible through finding maturity and inner calm when accepting God into your life.
Jasmine and Nathan’s story definitely falls into the second chances category. We know from the beginning that Nathan went off to live the wild life when Jasmine pushed for more than moving in together. She stays almost in stasis in the eight years between, emotionally not physically, never challenging how she laid all the blame at his doorstep or the very vision of the future that drove him off. Her faith is a matter of habit, and she does not turn to God to understand what happened back then or what is happening now.
Nathan, on the other hand, proved to himself he was over her almost the minute he left her sight, by having many relationships, and was sure there’d be nothing but faint history between them on his return. He comes back to Bridgeview after having his wake-up call when following his dad’s path into alcoholism had real costs. We don’t learn the specifics until later, but the heavy cost is clear from how he avoids drinking now and how he turns down the offers to go carousing with his best friend and Jasmine’s brother, Basil.
Basil is the third main character in this story in many ways. He doesn’t get a point of view, but he’s the topic of thought or conversation throughout. He’s also a strong source of conflict between expecting Nathan to be a fellow bar-hopper and being the only full-time member of the business Jasmine is starting with her brother and cousin. Basil is the current embodiment of the California Nathan.
Nor is he the only prominent secondary character in a story that has family as a main thread. Marietta, the Santoro matriarch, makes her opinions known while the close-knit community extends beyond the Santoro family to their friends and neighbors. This group is constantly swelling as weddings abound.
The prominence of family is a more complex part of the story and a theme all of its own. Which family you belong to carries with it history and expectation that can work against you as much as for. Nathan may have been following in his father’s footsteps, but his idealistic view of the Santoro family from the outside doesn’t hold true for Basil. Basil feels pressured by the family reputation. He’s not the only one, either.
Characters are Valerie Comer’s strength, and Wishes on Wildflowers does not slack in this regard. The three primary characters, along with many others in the huge cast, became so real that I was as much frustrated at them when they made a poor choice as frustrated for them when things didn’t go their way. You’d think with his recent awakening Nathan’s struggle would not be in his behavior but in others’ perception of him. You’d be right in part, but there were times I wanted to shake him as he hid the truth of his past until the worst possible moment. Or when he pushed Jasmine after she’d made her feelings clear rather than giving her a reason to change her mind.
It’s Jasmine where you find the hardest struggle though, mainly because she doesn’t see it. Everyone believes she’s perfect, and while she sees her flaws, she has huge blind spots she must face before she’s ready to move forward. Her grandmother tries to point the way, offering Bible quotes to get Jasmine thinking, but ultimately, Jasmine has to do the work.
The gap between Jasmine’s vision of the future and reality offers several amusing points. For example, when she and Nathan end up helping with someone’s kids, her reaction to a stinky diaper surprised me in someone who was pushing for marriage and kids when she and Nathan were originally dating. Nathan can look back and recognize if he hadn’t run, it would have been a disaster, but Jasmine hasn’t gotten there at this point. Hint: there are more than a few stinky diapers in the mix with kids.
Which brings me to the humorous moments peppered throughout. Sure, there are dark times, tense situations, and ones which demand a re-evaluation of faith and trusting God to work in their favor. But there are also points I was startled into laughter, often right at the end of the scene. Marietta prompts a few, Pansy the goat reappears, and more to keep you from giving up hope that these two can work through the barriers keeping them apart.
I liked how we get to see different sides of, and growth in, secondary characters as well as the main cast. There’s foreshadowing for the books to come, some of it outright, but others were intriguing teases to keep me reading on. As to this story, it might seem simple on the surface, but the elements they’re dealing with are huge. Change doesn’t come in a blink. Still, they’ve set themselves on a strong path, not just with each other but with both their families. It was a joy to see their journey and revisit familiar places and people.