A delectable mix of magic, fate and what it means to belong, The Secret Ingredient of Wishes is a gleaming illustration of the stories we all embody.
At a young age, Rachel Monroe discovered she had a gift: she could make wishes come true. All she had to do was hear or see the words, and with or without her consent, the wish became reality. But as with all extraordinary people, this gift isn’t without consequences, and all it takes is one wish gone horribly wrong before her ability becomes no longer a gift, but a burden. When 26-year-old Rachel accidentally grants a big wish for the first time in 16 years, she runs away from her hometown wanting to at last escape all the trouble her wishing has ever caused. She runs out of gas in the quaint little town of Nowhere, North Carolina—also known as the town of “Lost and Found”—and despite her intentions to leave her past behind, she begins to learn that even with a little bit of magic involved, secrets like this aren’t so easily forgotten.
The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by North Carolina author Susan Bishop Crispell is a clever twist on the old saying, “If you tell me, it won’t come true,” and it’s that very idea that emphasizes just how much Rachel’s wishing differs from our usual assumptions on the whimsy of wishing.
“I knew Rachel could make wishes come true from the very first sentence,” says Crispell. “With some stories, I have to brainstorm ideas until I hit on one that excites me and can hold up an entire book. But this one snuck up on me one day while I was at work. The first few lines popped up into my head and I just knew where the story was headed. Knowing that, I then purposely used the ‘If you tell me, it won’t come true’ vibe with Violet to support Rachel’s fear of wishes.”
Though wishing plays an important part, at its core Rachel’s tale is one of fate and of family, and how the two come together when they are meant to meet.
“I’m a big believer in fate,” says Crispell. “Not that everything is already planned out, but that certain things are meant to happen in our lives and the decisions we make lead us toward them. Some people might call that a happy coincidence. But whatever it is, I’m fascinated by it, and it’s definitely a theme in most of my books.”
That said, Rachel’s desire for a real family connection manifests in different ways throughout the novel—her ongoing questions about what happened to her brother and her relationships with both Catch and Ashe, for example—and it’s because of Rachel ending up where she’s supposed to be when she’s supposed to be there, a kind of fate, if you will, that allows her to find it.
“We’re all looking for something in life. For some, it’s money, others it’s family, companionship, acceptance. Sometimes people get so caught up in the looking that they miss out on what’s right in front of them … And more often than not, that’s even better than what they thought they wanted in the first place.” – Chapter Four
It’s this very thing, this desire for family and belonging in all its facets, and the idea that family is defined beyond blood relations, that drew Crispell most to this novel. “I love the idea that family is more than just DNA,” she says. “And I knew Rachel was desperate for some kind of family connection after her family fell apart when she accidentally erased her brother from existence. I wanted her to be able to find that comfort and closeness and sense of belonging she was searching for, and the only way she could get that was through strangers. I also wanted Rachel to meet someone who could help her learn to accept her ability and finally be able to move on.”
Of course, a novel set in a small Southern town wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some sweet homestyle cooking, and The Secret Ingredient of Wishes does not disappoint; pies play a role so vibrant that they’re impossible to miss. “I did a lot of pie research while writing and tried to find recipes that were a little out there and not your normal, every day kind of pie,” Crispell says. “The peach raspberry pie is probably my favorite from the book because those are two of my favorite fruits and they just pair so well together. But the chocolate tart with a kettle chip crust is pretty amazing too. (I have a lot of recipes on my Pinterest board because I get asked about the pies all the time!)”
The novel ends hopefully, with all the things Rachel’s ever wanted at last coming together. What makes the ending striking, however, is that this hopefulness and happiness are not a direct result of magic. They are instead a result of the possibilities that magic could provide, tying in perfectly with the novel’s place in the magical realism genre. You can’t take the magic away from the story, but the magic is not the whole story.
“Yes, that’s exactly what is so delightful about magical realism! The magic is a core part of the story, but the characters and their emotions and actions are really what drive the story forward,” adds Crispell. “I love that mix of fantasy and real life. It’s quirky and strange yet still completely relatable. And it allows the reader to lose herself in the magic of the story but still learn something about the world or see it in a new light by the end.