Book Review

When You Wish Upon A Lantern By Gloria Chao

When You Wish Upon a Lantern

  • Author: Gloria Chao
  • Genre: YA Romance
  • Publication Date: February 14, 2023
  • Publisher: Viking

Thank you to YA Books Central and Viking for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. You can find my YA Books Central review here.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: grief, mention of death, mention of death of a child, mention of cancer

Liya and Kai had been best friends since they were little kids, but all that changed when a humiliating incident sparked The Biggest Misunderstanding of All Time—and they haven’t spoken since.

Then Liya discovers her family’s wishing lantern store is struggling, and she decides to resume a tradition she had with her beloved late grandmother: secretly fulfilling the wishes people write on the lanterns they send into the sky. It may boost sales and save the store, but she can’t do it alone … and Kai is the only one who cares enough to help.

While working on their covert missions, Liya and Kai rekindle their friendship—and maybe more. But when their feuding families and changing futures threaten to tear them apart again, can they find a way to make their own wishes come true?

In a world where there is so much pressure on young people to prepare for their future, navigate changing dynamics with family and friends, and figure out what they want to do for the rest of their entire life, it’s refreshing to find a book about finding magic in your everyday life. There’s so many things that I enjoyed about this book, and it was a relatively light read, although it does touch on some heavier topics.

To start with, although the book is centered around a connection between Liya and Kai, childhood friends who are struggling to address their romantic feelings toward each other that neither has truly acknowledged to the other yet, it also focuses heavily on grief. Liya’s nainai (paternal grandmother) recently passed away, and not only is she dealing with her own grief, but also the way that the loss of her grandmother has changed the balance within her own family, and also within her community. 

One thing that I especially liked is that the cast of characters in the book is entirely made up of Asian and Asian-American characters. They live in an Asian community within Chicago, and it offers a small-town feel where all the characters know each other and are involved in the daily lives of others. It also allows them to engage in some really cool festivals, where there’s a lot of participation from the people of the town. Which brings me to the next thing that I loved about this story—the way Chinese traditions are maintained in America, but also adapted to better suit the needs of the Asian-American community. There’s a lot of Mandarin words used throughout the book, but they’re easy to understand through context, plus there’s a glossary at the end of the book that defines them.

I enjoyed seeing the connection between Liya and Kai grow and change over the course of the story. They weren’t talking anymore in the wake of a major miscommunication, despite being best friends for nearly their entire lives, but then managed to reconcile as part of helping wishes come true for the lantern lighting festival, and to help her family’s store get out of a financial rut. They’re perfectly matched, and everyone around them sees it, except the two of them.

We get the story from both perspectives, and it allows us to see what is going on in each of their heads. Liya is more of an introvert and a loner, and we see the family dynamics that are impacting her and driving her to focus so deeply on her family’s business. Kai is more outgoing and friendly, although his family dynamics are very different from Liya’s, but he’s equally invested in his family’s business. And the romance was slow-burn and very much PG but sweet. 

Overall, this was a fluffy and sweet read that’s easy to fly through, and it’s basically a Romeo and Juliet retelling with a Chinese spin on it. There’s plenty of humor in the story, just as I’ve come to expect from a Chao story, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Chinese culture. In addition, the way that these characters were able to integrate ancient Chinese customs into a more modern American life was heartwarming. This is definitely a book to check out if you enjoy YA romance.

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