Lea Beddia is an author, storyteller and educator. Born and raised in Montreal, she now teaches in Joliette, Quebec, where she lives with her husband and three children. When she isn’t writing for teenagers, she’s likely watching zombies take over the world, eavesdropping on conversations, or baking something with too much chocolate. She wanted to be a superhero when she was younger, but will settle for creating characters who can change the world. Her missions are to create accessible literature to striving readers, and find the best gelato on the planet. She will not give up on her quest for either.
Not an Easy Walk in the Park
The only thing worse than crash landing a plane is spending a weekend
hiking with your bully. Marisa’s only hope for a second chance at her test flight is extra credit from a survival camp weekend. As an aviation cadet, hiking in the wilderness should be a breeze. But Marisa, who is gay and out, needs the courage to deal with Aimee, a toxic basketball star and long-time bully. When Aimee is injured on the hike, Marisa will have to decide how to help her. Getting them to safety may cost Marisa her credits.
Is it worth it to save a bully?
A gay Canadian teenager’s mettle gets tested hard both at school and on the trail. As if the struggle to make passing grades and cope with severe test anxiety aren’t bad enough, Marisa has to endure homophobic comments and constant harassment from Aimee, a sneering classmate and former friend, not only in high school, but even on a day hike when she’s paired with her tormentor and fellow classmate Dawn during a weekend extra-credit survival camp. Worse yet, by blowing off several safety rules, Aimee manages to injure her leg and lose the backpack containing both the emergency phone and, it turns out, her insulin pump. Beddia really piles up the challenges, even throwing in a thunderstorm and a plane crash, but she gives her protagonist a good grounding in precisely described wilderness survival skills and a cool head under pressure—both of which repeatedly come into play as they weather the crisis. Marisa’s ability to cope when the going gets tough will strike readers as admirable, and the lack of a tidy resolution to the personal conflict adds a note of realism to the end. A suspenseful survival tale well stocked with both physical and ethical challenges."
Quill And Quire
In Lea Beddia’s Take Off!, Marissa is having a hard time in her final year of high school. She’s being bullied by her former friend, Aimee, and she needs to pull up her low grades – “D? You got a D … D as in Dummy or D as in Dyke?” Marissa is also a cadet focused on passing a test flight so she can get her pilot’s licence.
Marissa is gay and out. Her parents, who are “still dealing with the lesbian thing,” give the school a “heads-up” about her “situation.” Her mom displays cringe-worthy behaviour, the phys ed teacher is flustered and ignorant, and the school counsellor gives useless, hand-waving advice. Even so these are not the main sources of tension. Aimee is an inescapable nightmare as she relentlessly ridicules Marissa over her sexual orientation.
The girls are part of a group of students who go on a wilderness survival weekend to earn an extra credit. Marissa has to complete a hike with her partners in tow. Successfully completing the weekend will mean that she graduates, gets to redo her test flight – the first one was traumatic – and has a good chance of getting into the commercial piloting program at a college in Chicoutimi, Quebec. Marissa gets bogged down with an injured Aimee and must use her top-notch survival skills to survive both the wilderness and her bully.
The title of the book references Marissa’s ability to both fly a plane and confront her bully. The root of the bullying is not necessarily homophobia; Aimee has her own issues that need to be unpacked. The challenges presented in the book are complex, but it is an easy read thanks to Beddia’s well-paced and honest writing. The story will resonate with readers who have faced difficulties of any sort. A key takeaway is that problems are complicated, and there is often more than one way out of them. Marissa goes full throttle on her last leg of high school, and she sticks the landing.
Monique Polak, author of 32 books for young readers, including The Brass Charm
"In this wonderful novel, Lea Beddia kicks-the-tires-and-lights-the fires. In addition to enjoying the suspense and humour in Take Off! readers are sure to fall in love with this novel’s fascinating, diverse cast of characters. I’m already looking forward to Beddia’s next book!"
Tim Wynne-Jones, author of The Starlight Claim
"Marisa wants to fly but she's going to have to ace "life on earth" before she can take wing. That means survival camp, which takes on a whole new high-stakes meaning in Lea Beddia's exhilarating new novel."
Lori Weber, author of The Ribbon Leaf
"Take Off! is a fast-paced adventure story that will engage young readers, especially those with an interest in wilderness survival or aviation. Beddia cleverly uses flying as a metaphor for the ups and downs of complicated relationships, like the one between bully and target. A page-turner that will engage and enlighten young readers."
Q & A about "Take Off!"
Why did you write about a pilot?
I have always been afraid to fly. I have travelled, but I am always stessed, nauseous and uncomfortable. But, I have a newphew who is a pilot and I was so captivated by his passion, I asked him to take me flying. Flying in a Cessna 4-seater is a very different experience from being on a commercial flight. I go to see beautiful landscapes from above, and I it was fun and exciting. I incorporated the descriptions of those landscapes into Marisa's expereicne.
Can a teenager get a piloting licence?
Yes, they can. It takes a lot of hard work, studying and training, but a young person can technically get their private licence before getting their driver's licence! Anyone with this priviedge is likely involved with aviation cadets, like Marisa and Rock, and have likely been involved from a young age, around thirteen years old. The cadets provide lots of knowledge, training and community-based acitivities related to their various squadrons.
Why did you choose to write about bullying?
The short answer is because it still is and will likely always be a problem. The long answer, is: Marisa struggles with self confidence as a pilot, but also anytime she's around her bully, Aimee. But it is also because of Aimee that Marisa finds her voice. The novel is about just that: finding your voice, your place, and your people. Marisa can't control what Aimee does, but she can choose how someone else's toxic behaviour will affect her, and that resilience is the best thing any reader can learn.
Montreal Review of Books
Fight or Flight
By Dana Bath
A review of Take Off! by Lea Beddia
Published on July 5, 2023
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.
The plot does not come at the expense of character, however. Marisa is self-doubting but not passive. Although she rarely stands up to Aimee, she has good reasons not to and considers them carefully. For example, when her best friend Rock suggests that she could physically fight Aimee and win, Marisa reflects on this and agrees, but then says, “Hitting her back would make it worse… Besides, I don’t fight.” Marisa also speaks her mind when Aimee recklessly roughhouses with one of her own friends; even though Aimee insists that she should mind her own business, Marisa stands her ground. She is confused by her former friend’s aggressive and hostile behaviour, but she seems confident that it is Aimee, and not herself, who is the problem.
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.