Let’s just start here…I work in a library, so I’m a little sensitive about censorship. I follow Kate Messner, because I’ve liked her work in the past. When I saw that her author visit to a school had been cancelled after the administration decided they hadn’t had enough time to prepare the kids (or parents) for the fact that her new book mentions heroin– although they seem to have had access to the book for months–my radar started buzzing.
Still, I thought I’d wait and see what I thought after I read the book. (It’s alarming how many people are willing to make judgments about books without actually reading them.) So when a copy popped up on my hold shelf, I brought it home and dove in.
Here’s what I think now. We all need this book, although it might not appeal to every reader at every moment in time – like any other book. Charlie Brennan is a regular kid who happens to come across a fish that grants wishes. A little magical realism leads to unpredictable results. As we read along, we also learn about some of the problems Charlie’s older sister is having. Eventually her sister ends up in treatment.
So there we are. It’s hard to read about what happens when heroin takes over your life, both for Charlie’s sister and the rest of the family, but Kate Messner handles it with honesty. You don’t get the worst you might imagine, but she still conveys how destructive and consuming someone else’s addiction can be. Charlie struggles in the way that kids really do struggle when their family is compromised by an addiction. She resents her sister’s problems taking more of her parents’ time. She doesn’t tell her friends at first, because she feels a little ashamed it’s happening in her family. Shouldn’t this kind of thing happen to other people? Her parents don’t know how to fight it and wonder what they did wrong. That all really happens. I know this, because I’ve seen it in families fighting substance abuse myself.
I understand a parent’s desire to protect their child and an administrator’s fear of upsetting parents. However, what kind of world do we live in? Look around. Whether it’s mass shootings, gangs, homelessness, child abuse, violence against women, poverty, lead poisoning, job loss – it’s all there in front of kids, as is substance abuse. To think that we can protect kids from an awful world by not writing or reading about it is naïve. Do we really think they don’t know what’s going on?
Kids who live with any of these things – heroin abuse in their families included – need to have stories which help them process what is happening. The kids whose friends’ families are struggling also need it, as do the kids who are lucky enough to not have to experience it in any way.
When I was a kid, I heard adults debate whether writers should create books for kids which dealt with divorce or job loss, because those topics were thought to be too dark for young readers. Did it mean no one got divorced or lost a job? Of course not! Developing empathy for others is an important part of finding your place in the world. Having a story like this gives all kids a way to figure out how they see the world, and that is very much needed right now.
Read this book and see what you think. I think it’s awesome.
The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner