Thirteen-year-old Nat Beacon loves a lot of things: her dog Warbucks, her best friend Chloe, and competing on her wheelchair racing team, the Zoomers, to name a few. But there’s one thing she’s absolutely OBSESSED with: MUSICALS! From Hamilton to Les Mis, there’s not a cast album she hasn’t memorized and belted along to. She’s never actually been in a musical or even seen an actor who uses a wheelchair for mobility on stage. Would someone like Nat ever get cast?
But when Nat’s family moves from California to New Jersey, Nat stumbles upon auditions for a kids’ production of Wicked, one of her favorite musicals ever! And she gets into the ensemble! The other cast members are super cool and inclusive (well, most of them)— especially Malik, the male lead and cutest boy Nat’s ever seen. But when things go awry a week before opening night, will Nat be able to cast her fears and insecurities aside and “Defy Gravity” in every sense of the song title?
“For every kid who has a dream, even if the odds are against you, don’t ever stop finding ways to fly.”
I didn’t expect to become so invested in this book. This is such a great story for many reasons. For one thing, it gives kids who use wheelchairs a character they can relate to, and it provides able-bodied kids a better understanding of what life is like for kids who use wheelchairs.
It figures it’s the kids who are all welcoming and treat her like a capable human being, while the adults think she can’t do anything. People with disabilities can do anything they set their minds to. They just have to do it differently than able-bodied people.
People who use wheelchairs don’t get enough representation in books, shows, television, or movies. And even when there is a character in a wheelchair, they are almost always played by an able-bodied actor. Luckily thanks to actors like Ali Stroker (co-author of this fantastic book), things are changing for the better.
I love live musical theater. I’ve seen Wicked twice, Mamma Mia twice, Newsies three times, and many others. I love how the actors sing with such enunciation and emotion. Be prepared for musical references and a lot of theater talk. I love how the chapter titles are based on song titles. I had fun looking up what song titles are from which musical.
While the story’s two primary focuses are Nat’s day-to-day experiences as a person in a wheelchair and the theater, those aren’t the only themes explored. This is still a middle school coming-of-age story, with themes of fierce friendships, discovering independence, and breaking boundaries.
Ali Stroker is one extraordinary lady. She made history as the first person in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway and win a Tony. Nat’s experiences are modeled after Ali’s own life experiences, making this story genuine. Stacy Davidowitz is the author of the Camp Rolling Hills series and co-author of Camp Rolling Hills the Musical. If you are a theater nerd like the two women who wrote this book, this is the story for you.
Be sure to read the “Talkback with authors Stacey and Ali” at the back of the book. When I read it, I could practically hear the two of them happily squealing in my head.