The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner (Bloomsbury, June 2016), spins off of the fairytale of the fisherman and the wish-granting fish a middle-grade contemporary story dealing with the hard issue of drug addiction.
Charlie misses her big sister Abby, in her first year at college, but she's happy to fill her time with her friends and her relatively new passion for Irish dancing. Ice-fishing brings in a bit of extra cash to help her buy just the right shinny dress for her Irish dance competitions...and it brings magic into her life when she catches a fish that grants wishes.
As is so often the case with hasty wishes, they don't go quite right--her friend Drew didn't actually want to make it onto the basketball team, and her mother's new, and much-wanted/needed job means that sometimes what Charlie wants has to go out the window. And there's the fish's mix-up between Roberto Sullivan, the boy Charlie wants to have a crush on her, and Bobby O'Sullivan, the boy that now is infatuated with her. But these problems pale into comparison when more serious trouble enters her family--smart, athletic, beautiful Abby has become a heroin addict, and there's no way to wish that away forever.
But Charlie's family is strong enough to hold together, and Charlie is strong enough to realize that she can't make everything all better with wishes, or promises from Abby never to use drugs again. So even when the seventh wish is gone, and the magic fades away, though there's no guarantee that everything will be all better, there is hope.
The topic of drug addiction is a serious one, that is taken seriously in the story, It's disturbing how easy Abby's path to heroin was--starting with the familiar, readily available Adderall and moving on down the line. It's clear how easily substance abuse can take over someone's life, even if that person has a loving family and lots going for them. And it's clear that Abby's never going to be truly out of the woods, and that what seemed like it should be an easy path through life for her is now gone.
But this darkness isn't presented in any graphic or overpowering way that is inappropriate for middle grade readers (9-12 year olds). The Seventh Wish still manages to be a warm, friendly, and funny story. Charlie grieves, is angry, is resentful, is in denial--all the things that one would expect from a middle school kid. But she's a strong enough person with a strong enough family to still be aware of the good and the funny and the beautiful things in life, and Kate Messenr shares such things generously. Charlie learns, with some help from the Serentity prayer, that there are some things she can change for the better without magic, and that she can still love her sister. (And poor magic-ed Bobby O'Sullivan gets a nice ending too once the magic wears off....)
The drug addiction in The Seventh Wish triggered some backlash (you can read about it at Kate Messner's blog). But gee, kids don't live in bubble wrap, and why the heck not encourage them to read an educating, eye-opening story about a huge real-world problem (or for some kids, a story that's personally familiar that might make them feel less alone) that's also a good, fun story?
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher