October 10, 2022

REVIEW Air by Monica Roe

Air by Monica Roe 
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: March 15, 2022
Format: Audiobook (Borrowed from Library) + Hardcover (Giveaway Win)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (FSG)

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"More than anything, I wish someone had thought to ask me if I needed help before going ahead and planning it all out."

Monica Roe’s newest middle-grade novel Air is an action-packed, thought-provoking contemporary tale full of positive disability representation, empowering messages, and even a bit of first-crush romance and hijinks. Emmie is a twelve-year-old girl affected by spina bifida (a birth defect in which an area of the spinal column doesn't form properly) who largely gets around using her wheelchair and dreams of one day competing in wheelchair motocross (WCMX). In order to do so, she’s been running a side hustle of sorts (making wheelchair armrest bags) to raise money. When her school hears of her plans and offers to fundraise (and make a very big deal out of the situation), Emmie must decide what she wants to do and what she wants her future to look like. 

I really empathized with Emmie in this book. There are a lot of people in Emmie’s life that mean well, but one rule of thumb for interacting with wheelchair users that everyone should observe is to not touch someone’s wheelchair unless they give you permission. Like, ever. There’s also the struggle of all those meaning well when it comes to trying to help with fundraising for her new wheelchair. No one doubts the good intentions (especially Emmie), but I agree with some of the others in her life that the new wheelchair will be more meaningful if she earns it herself (and doesn’t have to ‘march to the beat of another person’s drum’ to do so). I cannot imagine the painful awkwardness that would come with all the media attention that would surround the fundraiser (and it's still shocking to me that they didn’t reach out to her dad about it before setting it up) - I was cringing just reading about the entire situation.  

The disability representation in this book is great (speaking from the viewpoint of someone who is disabled and chronically ill but not wheelchair-bound). It’s obvious that the author did her research (with a lot of it likely coming from her position as a physical therapist). After reading the author’s note at the end of the book, it was even cooler (and not surprising) to learn that this was loosely based on some of the author’s real-life encounters and experiences with a disabled student. I felt that the depiction of how Emmie’s father struggles to balance raising a child, going to school, and keeping a roof over their heads was very authentic. I also appreciate how the author touched on the fight by people with disabilities and their allies to secure equal and accessible facilities at schools and other public locations. It may feel like ages ago, but ADA rules and regulations haven’t actually been around for that long. As 'AKSalmonGrannie' remarks, it doesn't seem like it should be all that special to give students what they need at school. 

While Emmie is undoubtedly the star of the show in this book, there were some side characters that really shined. For example, Mr. Singeltary (the gym teacher) goes out of his way to make Emmie feel comfortable and even does one on one basketball games with her. I was quite amused by his using his desk chair to make things more equal in the game. Mr. Milling, the history teacher has some insightful conversations with EmmieThere’s also Emmie’s best friend Ale, who is a voice of reason and the person Emmie goes to vent her frustrations. I was a bit saddened that Emmie didn’t take more interest in Ale’s hobbies (given how much Ale helps her with training to do tricks). I understand that bees are scary, but the give and take in their relationship is not exactly equal. 

Overall, Air was an entertaining and enjoyable book. Emmie’s story is an inspirational one - not because of all the things she’s able to do in a wheelchair, but because of her mature responses to people’s flubs, her determination to make sure she and others continue to learn and do better, and her genuine enthusiasm for life. It was so exciting to see the representation in this book (I can’t really think of any other contemporary novels I’ve read that have featured the main character in a wheelchair), and I hope I can see similar representation in more books in the future. For those who love audiobooks, Sandy Rustin did a great job with the narration - she really brought Emmie’s personality and perspective to life with her performance. While this book is primarily geared towards a younger audience, I would happily recommend it to young adults and adults alike as I think readers of all ages would be able to take something away from this story. 

Thank you to KidLit 411 for my giveaway copy of the book!  

About the Author

Monica Roe is a writer, physical therapist, beekeeper, and researcher/advocate for the social model of disability and inclusive rural health. A first-generation graduate, Monica studies public health and disability-inclusive disaster preparedness at the University of Alaska. She and her family divide their time between Alaska and their apiary in rural South Carolina.

Website: www.monicaroeauthor.com

Twitter: @monica_roe 

IG: @oldswampapiary 

If very low-key beekeeping videos are your thing, you’re welcome to check out our little apiary over on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeWa5m-udZ-xndpx29PHJEA   Exciting? Not terribly. Calm and pleasantly buzzy? Very much so! ☺ 

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