(Title quote is from Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage)
Aven Green has a pretty great life as a middle schooler in Kansas. She plays on the soccer team, has a wonderful group of friends, is a creative writer, and plays the guitar. She also has no arms. She was born without them, though if anyone asks about it (and boy do they), she always has a wild tale to tell them about where they went and how. But her life is about to be upended: her dad has been out of work for a bit. When an opportunity finally comes around, it’s across the country in dry old Arizona. Funnily enough, Arizona is where Aven was born before the Greens adopted her. She has no memories of the place, but she’s about to land somewhere unforgettable: Stagecoach Pass, a rundown, unusual Western theme park that her father and mother now manage and where they live.
Meeting new friends will be a challenge – her old classmates were used to her navigating school using her feet in place of her hands. Now the staring is a lot, and she often finds herself eating lunch alone far from her peers, and losing interest in some of her old hobbies. But with time, things look up. She meets a couple more loners named Connor and Zion who are dealing with their own misfit status; she starts writing a blog to keep up with old friends and starts to connect with strangers too; and a mystery begins to unfold at Stagecoach Pass, as its quirky employees begin to clue her in to its strange and intriguing past. The three of them set out to find out more about the old theme park, and along the way will push each other to reclaim their differences and dismiss the haters.
This is a sweet little book that presents multiple ably diverse characters in an informative and fun story (that doesn’t make light of the character’s struggles and conflicts either). Aven’s sense of humor is fantastic and her struggles with starting over are very relatable. And while the physical demands of her life are less relatable to most, the author provides a lot of information in a readable fashion. Connor has Tourette’s Syndrome, and again, the reader learns a lot about people living with it and the challenges they live with each day. Zion is a big kid, and his family are super-nerds (hello my people). Interestingly, he’s a super-nerd of color, which I love to see more and more of in books. I think it would have been interesting if one of her friends had an “invisible disability” instead of two more very visible differences, but that’s a quibble.
The mystery, for me, is the less effective section of the book, and its outcome is a bit obvious. But the journey to the kids solving it is still fun.
The parents in this book are really dynamite, too. Not in an unrealistic way either — I’ve been reading a lot of children’s fiction where the adults are really problematic and completely fucking up their children. This, of course, is realistic, but it was a nice break to have a pair of parents who are truly doing their best and succeeding at that best.
I listened to the audio of this, which was fantastically performed. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in reading more disability-diverse books, but it is particularly suited to grade 4-7.