On the Wheels of a Dream: “The Chance to Fly”

Imprint: Amulet Books, New York
Publication Date: April 13, 2021
Price: $16.99
ISBN: 978-1-4197-4393-1
EAN: 9781419743931
Page Count: 288
Format: Hardcover
Additional formats: Ebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

BOOK — The saying goes that “there are no small parts, only small actors.” Adults that say this are usually overtired, impatient and trying to sell you something. That something is usually complacency and obedience. Theatre kids deserve better. 

Thirteen-year-old Nat Beacon’s dream to sing the role of Eliza Schuyler in Hamilton on Broadway. But, she’s never seen a Broadway show, or even been in a musical before! This changes when Nat moves with her family from California to New Jersey. Nat is all set to meet her new wheelchair racing team coach when she spies a flier promoting auditions for a summer production of Wicked. Suddenly, Nat is thrown into ensemble rehearsals. She’s making new friends in her new town and meeting Malik, the cutest boy she’s ever met. When trouble upsets their production, Nat and her friends learn to roll with the punches (pun sort of intended). Nat lets go of her insecurities and embraces her inner diva! 

The Chance to Fly is about a girl learning to self-advocate when the adults around her lack the imagination to do it for her. Readers young and old watch heroine Nat Beacon tackle a new town, new friends, and inaccessible spaces. The cast are welcoming to Nat without hesitation: they are open-minded about accessibility; they don’t mind that Nat doesn’t know any of the theatre lingo like stage directions, or to yell “Thank you five” when a stage manager gives the countdown to a performance.  

I greatly appreciate that writers Stroker & Davidowitz include details of wheelchair use into the novel but they don’t make the novel about Nat’s disability. They write Nat as a young woman first: she likes brightly colored leggings and fringed t-shirts; she’s a strong swimmer; she has a powerful singing voice and memorizes musicals faster than her parents can download the albums. 

The Chance to Fly is intersectional and feminist. It passes the Bechdel test. There are multiple people of color. They exist as actual people and not merely to prop up Nat on her journey. 

Abled readers will learn a little about how Nat’s life differs from theirs, but The Chance to Fly isn’t meant to teach kids about wheelchair use. There are other books for that. The Chance to Fly is about a girl’s dream to star in a musical. Her wheelchair is mentioned casually in the novel. She uses her chair the way some people wear glasses or have strong allergic reactions to tree nuts. It’s not a big deal until somebody (like an adult) makes it a big deal.  

I’m not going to say that The Chance to Fly will teach your child that they can do anything. Cities and towns are largely inaccessible to the disabled community by design. You can’t accomplish “anything” if you can’t even get through an inaccessible building’s door. 

This book can teach your child about resourcefulness. It can inform your child that adults don’t always have the answers. Children can, with the help of supportive adults, come up with their own solutions. Creativity is a skill a kid can use to change an unimaginative adult’s mind. Children are more capable than adults think kids are. 

While we’re here: Stop staring at wheelchair users when they get on the bus. It’s incredibly rude. Your kindergarten teachers taught you better, ya’ dingus.  

As a kid, I was hyper focused on pretending I wasn’t disabled. I grew up at a time when it was popular to teach kids that we’re all differently abled or, “disability is a state of mind” while hiding special needs kids behind closed doors. Society taught me that my disability was strange and embarrassing. Abled adults are weird. If, A Chance to Fly existed as a kid, I would not have read it. That was who I was. 

The person I am now loved it! I identified with Nat’s challenges in an inaccessible world. I cried when she got cast in Wicked. I am grateful that this novel exists now. It means that the world is changing. I look forward to a world in which kids learn about the arts in an inclusive space. 

The Chance to Fly is available at your local bookstore (please avoid that big, online monopoly website that’s a human rights violation walking. You know the one). This novel is also available at the library! Minuteman Library Network has The Chance to Fly in hardcover, audio, and eBook formats.

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