Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Twelve-year-old Charlie (Charlotte) Brennan loves Irish step dancing, and for Christmas, her parents had given her a $300. promise towards a dress in which to compete at a Feis or Irish dancing competition.  Charlie and her friend Dasha both are hoping to move up to advance in the next Feis. Charlie decides to do some ice fishing with her friend Drew and his Nana, Mrs. McNeil, to earn some extra dress money by selling the fish she catches.

The only problem is that Charlie is actually afraid of the ice and decides not to go too far out her first day fishing.  Her first fish is a little small, but it tells Charlie she can have a wish if she releases it back into the water.  Not taking it seriously, she  wishes that Roberto Sullivan will like her, but even though it is Robert O'Sullivan who is suddenly infatuated with her, Charlie goes back for more from the wish-granting fish.  She wishes that she would not be afraid of the ice, and sure enough, her fear vanishes and Charlie is able to catch a fair amount of perch and her dress money steadily grows.

Soon, more wishes follow: friend Drew makes the basketball team, to his father's delight and his chagrin, friend Dasha passes her ESL test but discovers she is in over her head in classes where the English words just whiz by her; and Charlie's mom gets a new, better job, but it means that she can't drive Charlie and Dasha to their next Feis.  But when Charlie wishes her beloved older sister home from college so she can drive them to the Feis, no one is prepared for the phone call from the Student Health Center that Abby is quite sick and needs to be picked up.  Charlie not only misses her Feis, but she begins to realize that she needs to be careful about how she phrases her wishes.

Recovered, Abby returns to school, but not for long.  Another phone call from the Student Health Center brings the truth about Abby - she is addicted to heroin and needs help.  Charlie's life soon becomes one of hiding the truth from her friends because she must go to visit her sister in rehab every Sunday instead of working on a group science fair project.  But more importantly is Charlie's struggle to understand how her smart, funny, athletic sister could turn into a liar and a heroin addict even before her first year of college is over.  Abby just doesn't fit the picture of the drug addicts she saw in the D.A.R.E video at school, and who even signed the pledge not to do drugs.  But there is support for Charlie while her sister is in rehab in the form of Mrs. McNeil and even the 8th grade, prizewinner Irish dancer Leah, both of whom have dealt with a family member's alcohol addiction, and their relapses.

This is a very readable novel.  I was pulled in from page one and really couldn't put it down until I finished, even though I already knew what the novel is about.  I thought Kate Messner created a main character who is very nicely fully realized and relatable, in a setting that is also believable - January in upstate New York is mighty cold, just as it is in the novel. And, despite the use of magical realism, in this novel, it is a very realistic story.

I liked how Messner introduces the reader to Charlie's life, depicting it as just ordinary but so wonderfully middle class and middle grade - dancing, friends, crushes, school projects - and how she decides to work for a dress nicer than what $300. would buy because Irish dancing is that important to her.  And I thought Messner did a spot on job showing readers that when Abby's addiction becomes part of the Brennan family's life, everything suddenly centers on her and her needs, and everyone else's needs, including Charlie's, simply become secondary or are just forgotten about.  That is one of the sad truths about addiction.  And yet, Messner cleverly never lets the story turn preachy or didactic, and always manages to keep it Charlie's story from start to finish, never letting Abby's story take over, even as it takes over Charlie's life.

But, don't be put too off by the wish-granting fish in the midst of a realistic novel, that bit of magical realism that is really a means to an end with a bit of a moral about being careful about what you wish for.  But more importantly, it demonstrates, as Charlie learns, that even magic is useless in that face of life's serious issues.

Kudos to Kate Messner for taking on the difficult topic of drug addiction head on, for coming right out and using the word heroin and not skirting around it with some opaque word for it, and writing a book that is so needed right now.  Heroin addiction is really on the increase among middle class kids eighteen to twenty-five, so be sure to read her author's note about this and places where families can learn more and find treatment help.

By now, most of you know that Messner was disinvited from a school visit by a principal who felt the novel's theme showing the impact of drug addiction on families would generate questions they would "not be able to adequately answer and discuss."  You might read Messner's own thoughts about this sad occurrence HERE, rather than my second-hand recounting of it.

I should add that I also learned quite a bit about ice fishing and Irish step dancing competitions, two things I will never do, but for which I now definitely have a new appreciation.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

1 comment:

  1. What a powerful story. I can see why teachers would be afraid of it, but it's sad that they are not up for the challenge in the classroom. For any child going through this kind of situation, this book would feel like a lifeline.


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