As described by its author Kate Messner, "The Seventh Wish" is "a magical-ice-fishing-Irish-dancing-heroin novel for kids." It sounds like it would be a mess, but instead it weaves a tale that melds all these wildly differing parts together.
When Charlie decides to go ice fishing with her friend and his grandmother, the little fish she catches surprises her by speaking. "Please release me," it said, "and I will grant you a wish." It seems simple enough. Charlie, however, finds that wishes are not simple or maybe just that fish don't hear very well. Whatever the reason, her wishes always go awry. The wrong boy likes her and her mom's new job schedule interferes with her dance competitions. Charlie learns from the first few missteps to wish very specifically, but even this is not enough to help her sister. Charlie's sister, Abby, has gone away to college and become addicted to heroin. Charlie is so conflicted and confused by Abby's addiction. She is full of despair because she can't help her sister but also angry at Abby for placing herself and their family in this terrible predicament.
This book deals wonderfully with the timely topic of opioid addiction and its effects on both the addict and the family as a whole. Abby is a good student with a caring and supportive family. She and Charlie are extremely close, yet the secrets of her addiction threaten everything the family holds dear. I like the way Messner depicts how Abby's addiction becomes her priority at all costs. Even though she loves her family, her drug dependence makes getting high her focus no matter what. Messner addresses all the pitfalls of addiction and its devastating consequences in a realistic and cautionary manner making the topic accessible for middle grade readers.
I am usually not a fan of magical realism, but I feel that presented in this manner it works well for the topic. The wishing fish brings about the point that not all problems can be wished away. Some must be met head on and dealt with using courage, patience and love.
In a world where the opioid epidemic is growing, I think this book deals with the topic appropriately for middle grade students and has much to teach about addiction. It is a book I highly recommend to open up the topic of drugs with any middle grade student, and it is a great book for parents and children to read together.
Lisa Cartee is a children's clerk at the Missouri River Regional Library.