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.