I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley. Wow! What a wonderful privilege it was to read this book. I do believe that this is going to be a very important book in the coming year. I know that I want to make sure to get this book into the hands of the kids that need this book.
There is so much to say about this book. As I started reading, I was immediately drawn in by the beautiful imagery Kate Messner used to create the perfect, safe and happy world that many readers will recognize:
"The night before had been clear and cold and full of frigid stars. It looked as if they'd fallen from the sky and turned to crystal in the morning light. A whole field of them stretched over the ice from our shore to the island way, way out. Ice flowers."
The characters are all people that readers from all parts of the country will relate to. The protagonist, Charlie, is a middle-schooler focused on the things that are important to her life at that time: friends, school, an upcoming Irish dance competition. Solo dresses for Irish dance are very expensive. Her parents will pay $300 towards a dress, but most dresses cost much more than that. She takes up ice fishing in order to make money to put towards the dress.
The family in this story seems to be the ideal family. Charlie's parents are school professionals: her father is an English teacher, her mother is a school nurse. Her older sister, Abby, is in her freshman year at college. The warm, fun way this family interacts with each other draws the reader right into the pages. I love when this family plays their original "I'm Thinking Of a Word" game or makes tacos together, or any of the other things that families do together.
I especially like the way Messner develops such a realistic world that readers will know and understand and then infuses it with magic. As Charlie starts ice-fishing with her neighbors to earn money for her solo dress, her friend's grandmother, Mrs. McNeill, gives her a good-luck charm. Mrs. McNeill is a science teacher but still says, "May the luck of the ice spirits be with you."
Charlie is afraid of being on the ice, so she stays close to the shore. This is where she catches the magical fish that offers her wishes in exchange for its release. Charlie believes she's just imagining things. She makes a few half-hearted wishes and lets the fish go. When these wishes start coming true, she returns again and again for more wishes.
But all the magic fish wishes seem to be useless when Charlie and her family are forced to deal with a crisis that no one saw coming. Abby has become addicted to heroin while away at school
I was absolutely blown away by how honest and real and well-written this book is. Anyone who has ever faced the pain of watching a loved-one struggle with addiction will relate to the entire range of emotions that Charlie experiences: shock, grief, anger, shame, helplessness to name a few. And I especially appreciate the reality that this can happen in ANY family, even seemingly perfect ones, and that there are no easy answers.
Heroin addiction is becoming more and more common in all areas of the country. Here in central Ohio, it seems there are stories on the local news daily about it. It's become an epidemic. That said, I'm pretty sure that this is a book that I need to share with my students. Messner handles this topic very appropriately for kids in the grades I teach and the end notes discuss her research and shares resources for those who need help.
Sadly, there are students who need to read a book like this and they won't get the chance, at least not in their school. I was shocked to read Kate Messner's blogpost about a school that cancelled her visit at the last minute.
All I can say is that this school has passed up a terrific opportunity to make a difference to kids that very likely need help and are in pain due to a family member's addiction. I highly recommend this book and will be purchasing it for my classroom library. I also recommend stocking up on tissues, too!
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published June 7th 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens