THE SEVENTH WISH by Kate Messner
Book Rec by Erin Lee Golden
Where do you get the best book recommendations? From other writers! So welcome to a new blog series at The Writing Barn: WB Book Recs. These reviews come from writers deeply engaged in process, content and craft. Today, author and WB Write, Submit, Support attendee Erin Golden shares her thoughts on Kate Messner’s lovely and hard-hitting middle grade, The Seventh Wish.
I recently read Kate Messner’s middle-grade novel, THE SEVENTH WISH, and it is exactly the type of book I aspire to write next – grounded in real life with serious themes, but also with a touch of magical realism. This book is emotional and intense without ever becoming melodramatic or unbelievable (things I have been examining in my own work), and it is an excellent read.
While ice fishing on Lake Champlain, twelve-year-old Charlie (Charlotte) catches a magical wishing fish and proceeds to use it in an attempt to solve all her problems. But wishes come with a price. In this case, poorly phrased wishes result in things getting worse for Charlie and her family and friends, not better. In addition to this unifying concept, the book has many subplots, all handled gracefully and tied together neatly, which include Charlie striving to save money to buy a special dress for her Irish dancing competitions to helping an immigrant friend learn English to the biggest conflict of all: the family discovering that Charlie’s older sister, Abby, has become a heroin addict and seeing her through treatment.
Messner skillfully achieves several craft elements, the first being the author’s intention. In her author’s note, she says this book was scary to research and write because addiction is a disease that can affect any family at any time. In the novel, Charlie says something similar when reminiscing about her school’s D.A.R.E. program and realizing that instead of showing greasy-haired thugs doing drugs in dingy apartments, the videos should show girls like her sister: smart, talented, popular, from a good family, but still capable of choosing to do drugs and becoming addicted. The book also shows how a family deals with the unexpected and how addiction has no limits on those it can affect.
Messner also succeeds in telling the truth without cute lies or cheap, happy endings. She tells the truth in a way that is appropriate to her intended audience of middle grade readers. Messner never goes into graphic details about Abby’s drug usage or her treatments, but she gets everything across clearly via Charlie’s POV. Along with Charlie, readers experience confusion, betrayal, anger, and desperate desire for Abby to get better. Charlie and her parents believably go through the gamut of emotions associated with a tragedy like drug abuse, which allows readers to safely experience these feelings also and develop empathy for Abby and the family. We see and understand that Charlie doesn’t want to be just the addict’s sister. Through her anger and fear and feelings of guilt, readers watch Charlie develop as a character because of undergoing these experiences while still fighting to maintain her sense of self through her dance competitions and her school life.
This was an enjoyable book that doesn’t shy away from hard truths and painful moments, but it also doesn’t overwhelm or scare its readers. You may have heard about Kate Messner being uninvited from a school library visit when parents learned about the book’s subject matter. An incident like that makes this book all the more important. Kids deserve to know the truth, and there’s no safer place to learn it than in the pages of a novel.
Erin Lee Golden has written stories for as long as she can remember although she stopped illustrating them around age eight when she realized she couldn’t draw a straight line! She has an English degree from UT Arlington and worked in public relations and then for PBS before teaching high school English and creative writing for seven years. For Chronicle Books, she has written four activity books as well as the board book LET’S DANCE WITH JULIUS AND FRIENDS and the non-fiction picture book BIG, BIGGER, AND BIGGEST TRUCKS AND DIGGERS. She is also the author of CURIOUS GEORGE ADVENTURES IN LEARNING: GRADE K with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Erin is currently revising a middle grade novel and a series of chapter books while seeking an agent.