How many people do not live with some regret or the desire to have done things differently? It is 1995, and 15-year-old Maggie Dawes believes she lives in the shadow of her older sister, Morgan, who is prettier and more popular, gets better grades, and is her parents' favorite. On a date, a kiss goes too far, and Maggie finds herself pregnant, much to the distress of her devout Catholic parents. Abortion is unacceptable, and not wanting to bear the shame, Maggie's mother sends her from her Seattle home to stay with her aunt Linda in Ocracoke, North Carolina.
Depressed and shunned, Maggie thinks things can't be too bad until she lands on the Outer Banks in a desolate and sleepy town where the residents consist primarily of fishermen. Her aunt's house is tiny, in the middle of nowhere, and there's no TV. To Maggie this is worse than prison.
During her first weeks, Maggie keeps her distance from Linda, sticking to her room and sleeping a lot. The days drag by as Linda, and her fellow ex-nun Gwen run their shop in town, catering to the fishermen and tourists in season. They bake and serve biscuits and sell books and videos, so Linda leaves very early in the morning, not returning till mid-afternoon. In the interim, she leaves chores for Maggie to perform around the house.
Linda worries about Maggie, seeing she's floundering, and, in addition, she is letting her studies slide. She suggests hiring Bryce Trickett, a local boy two years Maggie's senior, to tutor her. Though uninterested, it makes Maggie happy to know there is someone close to her age living nearby. It's easy to commiserate with Maggie, with her being far from home, without contact with her loved ones and friends, and being an outcast. It must be upsetting to have one's life usurped and not know what the future will bring.
Soon Maggie's spirits lift when Bryce makes learning fun, and he takes her mind off her situation. They meet almost every day, and Maggie begins to enjoy her life on the coast. Linda is kind and nonjudgmental, and even better, Bryce doesn't ask questions.
Meeting Bryce's family is another plus. His twin younger brothers are boisterous and intelligent, and his parents are warm and welcoming. Bryce and his mom are into photography, and they get Maggie involved. Finding an exciting new passion, she is surprised at her innate talent for this craft. So now life is starting to look up somewhat. Maggie and Bryce share their hopes and dreams and soon realize they love each other, though Maggie knows they are too young for anything to come of it.
When Maggie's labor starts, Linda and Gwen take her to the hospital and alert her mother, who arrives before the birth. Afterward, Maggie is whisked back to Seattle, unable to say goodbye to Bryce or his family. As they say, life goes on.
Fast forward to 2019, with Maggie now residing in New York City. A well-known travel photographer and half owner of a gallery, she is diagnosed with melanoma and undergoes treatment. While she suffers through the debilitating side effects of chemo, she posts an ongoing cancer video, discussing her condition and sharing the horrors and insights she endures, hoping to help others.
Maggie, a strong-willed and independent individual, shares her thoughts:
"Like everyone, she had regrets, and now that time was running out, she couldn't help dwelling on them. There were actions she'd taken that she wished she could undo; there were opportunities she'd missed and now would never have the time to do. She'd spoken honestly about some of her regrets in one of her videos, admitting to feeling unreconciled to them and not closer to answers than when she'd initially been diagnosed."
The holidays are drawing near, and Maggie's assistant is away on vacation. Maggie is often too weak to work, so she hires a young man named Mark Price. She feels a camaraderie with Mark, and during Christmas, he spends time with her. They both divulge their lives, and Maggie genuinely appreciates the kindness Mark shows her. The sharing of their pasts allows them to form a tight bond.
As with all of Sparks' novels, emotions play a huge part. Though a bittersweet story, The Wish is a thought-provoking chronicle of a few decades in the protagonist's life. In the course of that life, she unearths her self-worth, self-acceptance, and the magnitude of first love.