Marisa is a high schooler, an aviation cadet, and the target of her former friend Aimee’s relentless bullying. Her grades are poor, and she has just failed her pilot’s test due to circumstances beyond her control. If she doesn’t graduate from school, her mother won’t pay for her second stab at her license.
As a result, she finds herself on an extra-credit school camping trip. Aimee is there too, and seems determined not just to make Marisa’s life unpleasant but also to prevent her from completing the trip at all. Getting those credits and advancing towards her dream of being a pilot will mean coming to terms with Aimee, even if Aimee can’t come to terms with herself.
Author Lea Beddia’s goal is “to create accessible literature for striving readers,” and this book is emphatically that. Marisa’s story is action-packed, beginning with a brief expository chapter that highlights Aimee’s meanness immediately, then launching into Marisa’s flight test just five pages in. There is not a wasted word, and moments of reflection are spare but effective. This is an adventure story, and from the outset we are made to wonder what will happen next.
Take Off! Rebel Mountain Press
Rebel Mountain Press
Secondary characters like Rock, along with Dawn, whom Marisa meets and bonds with on the camping trip, are fleshed out more through action and dialogue than description, which is another reason this book may appeal to developing readers. It is also refreshing that the topics of gender identity and sexuality are present more as undercurrents than central concerns. Marisa is gay, and it’s clear that this is at least part of Aimee’s problem, but Marisa ignores Aimee’s homophobic remarks and never appears to internalize them. Her sexuality may be an issue for Aimee, but it’s not for Marisa. Rock is a handsome boy who wears makeup, who charms all the girls, and whose best friend is a lesbian; his sexual preferences are not discussed. There are some subtle indications that Dawn could be genderfluid or transgender, but this is never clarified, and no one dwells on it.
The only character who gets short shrift is Aimee, who is a bit of a cartoon villain. She relentlessly sneers, steals, jabs, smacks, and makes ludicrous decisions that get them all in trouble. Even when we learn some explanatory details about her life, it’s hard to feel any empathy. A more complex antagonist might have created a richer story. That said, focusing our sympathies firmly in the camp of Marisa and her friends might be another way to keep readers on board and invested.
Take Off! is fun but substantial. It’s quick and easy to read, but it may stay with you for a long time. If there’s a smart young person in your life who doesn’t care much for reading, you might ask them to try this book. And then you might ask the author to write a sequel, because I’m curious about what Marisa, Dawn, and Rock get up to next.mRb