[Note: This review contains some spoilers.]
Twelve-year-old Charlie, just like most of us, has read all the stories about foolish people who discovered a way to make wishes come true, only to squander the opportunity. So when she finds — of all things — a fish that grants wishes, she’s determined not to be like those people. What she doesn’t expect is that sometimes, even the most unselfish, carefully planned wishes can go awry. And that some situations are so dangerous and complicated that even wishing can’t help.
Kate Messner’s “The Seventh Wish” deals with some pretty heavy themes, but in wise and age-appropriate ways. Charlie is a likable narrator, whose days are taken up with school, Irish dancing, and ice fishing (that last to help raise money for the dress she needs for dancing). Her life is often stressful — and she’s sometimes resentful of her older sister, Abby, who seems to take priority over her — but it’s a good life on the whole. And when she finds the wishing fish, she’s convinced it’s going to get even better, if she can just figure out how to get her wishes to go right.
Charlie never expects to find herself facing terror, uncertainty, and betrayal when Abby overdoses on heroin and has to be rushed to the hospital. But she’s about to find out the limitations of wishing, and about how little control we really have when our loved ones are in trouble.
It’s a hard lesson, but it’s presented well. Charlie’s family is a close one, and though they have their ups and downs, they try hard to work together to deal with Abby’s crisis. We see Abby going through treatment and describing what addiction is like for her; we also see her relapsing, lying, and stealing, and then trying again to recover. Though this is all discussed openly and honestly, it’s not scary or disturbing. But it definitely makes addiction look unappealing and unattractive.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the book is the distinction it draws between wishing and praying. Even though Charlie’s in a situation touched by magic, where wishes actually come true, she discovers that she can’t always make things better that way. Through Abby’s treatment center, Charlie learns about the Serenity Prayer, with its focus on asking for God’s help to accept what we can’t change, and she comes to rely more on this than on wishing. Though it’s a subtle message (and there’s no heavy emphasis on faith and religion in general), it’s a powerful one.
“The Seventh Wish” is a well-told story with some important themes. Even if its young readers never have to deal with a loved one’s addiction, almost all of them will have to deal with family crises, and this story, as it portrays Charlie’s journey toward acceptance and forgiveness, demonstrates some good ways to do that.
Image copy Bloomsbury USA Childrens. Review copy obtained from the reviewer’s local library.