Twelve-year-old Emmie is an entrepreneurial daredevil. Along with her best friend, Ale, they’ve started an online business selling crafting supplies, with the purpose of raising money for their respective goals and passions: Ale for better beekeeping gear for her apicultural dreams; Emmie for a new decked out, reinforced wheelchair, the better to withstand her WCMX ambitions. Emmie says she was born for speed, what with having a father who was also an avid extreme sports athlete, and a mother who never told her to hold back. The tight knit community of her small town is used to Emmie’s antics, and they only become an issue when her school’s new principal, a stickler for rules and regulations, treats her like she’s made of matchsticks. A situation that is only made worse when Emmie, in part due to the school’s outdated facilities, takes a spill and breaks her wheelchair while attempting a trick she’s done hundreds of times before. Instead of updating the accessibility issues of the building, the school provides her with an aide that Emmie does not want and definitely doesn’t think she needs. Worse, the optics-obsessed principal and his staff decide to form a fundraiser to get Emmie her new, tricked-out set of wheels. Emmie knows she should be grateful, but part of her feels that these decisions made for her supposed benefit are being made without her involvement — that her choices have been taken away from her. And so she takes matters into her own hands, determined to show the school — and her town, and her grieving dad — that she knows exactly what she wants and needs and, more importantly, how to get it on her own.
I think that sometimes there’s a default assumption that all help is helpful as long as intentions are “good.” But plenty of clear feedback from within the disability community begs to differ. At its heart, Air is a story about community and accessibility — and how hard it can be to change long standing assumptions, especially within one’s own largely loving community, and how hard it can be to speak up for oneself in the face of well-intentioned ableism.
— Monica Roe, in an interview
Air by Monica Roe was just a lovely, lovely read. Started it in a somewhat gloomy afternoon and got so into it I literally flew through the whole thing — something that I’ve done only a handful of other times. A fun, lively book about disability rights, and the importance of agency in the lives of kids. Emmie is a wonderful protagonist: strong-willed, determined, and definitely not above being a bit of a huge jerk. The supporting cast is just as charming, in particular an old woman Emmie meets through her online business and with whom she strikes up a friendship. Known only as AK_SalmonGranny, she also uses a wheelchair, and spends the story dispensing valuable and delightfully direct and irreverent advice to our protagonist. She’s great.
I had no knowledge of WCMX as a sport until reading this book. I have since then looked up videos online and encourage you to do the same. Athletes in general are an amazing lot, but the people who do extreme sports are the ones that truly astound me. Human beings are awesome.
Also, as an aside: Air reminded me so much of the movies about extreme sports that were seemingly everywhere during my childhood in the nineties, specifically the early Disney Channel Original Movies. Brink!, in particular, kept coming to mind. Which I guess is why I pictured a present-day Eric von Detten as Emmie’s dad here. Which means, of course, that I am old. Always and forever a soul skater, though, brah.