By Ann Marie Meyers
Jolly Fish Press, 2013
First, it should be noted that I was granted an Advance Reading Copy of Up in the Air for reasons that do not include my currently being a child, a parent, a teacher, or any other form of expert on current children’s literature (“current” meaning more recent than Beverly Cleary and “children’s” meaning for a younger audience than J.K. Rowling). What follows is the humble impression of a YA Horror/Sci-Fi author who has been a bookish child in the less distant past than some people.
Like many ten-year-olds, Melody dreams of being able to fly. Like (hopefully) fewer ten-year-olds, she also dreams of undoing the car accident that crippled her father. When an extra long flying jump off the park swings sends her to Chimeroan, where dreams come true, she’s given a pair of wings, but in order to keep them, she’ll have to solve three riddles, which will require her to trust herself and other people, and play by the game’s rules, which may conflict with her plan to use Chimeroan’s magic to make her second dream come true as well.
The characters are a little less colorful than they could be in a children’s fantasy book. Of course, the story itself isn’t a lighthearted adventure; it’s about a kid dealing with serious survivor’s guilt. That’s no downside at all to a disturbingly desensitized grownup like me, but if lighthearted is what you’re looking for, or if you’re shopping on behalf of a kid who still gets nightmares from Roald Dahl (and who hasn’t had at least one of those), be aware, Up in the Air has some very serious moments and some pretty graphic car accident flashbacks.
It’s a beautiful exploration of serious grief, guilt, and healing for a young audience. The simplified, didactic dialogue common in children’s literature is present, but it doesn’t feel forced, given the therapeutic role of the Chimeroan guides, and it never diminishes the depth of the subject matter. Chimeroan itself is a vivid and appropriately dreamlike manifestation of the mind, and Melody’s journey to accept herself and mend her relationship with her family is perfectly, tear-jerkingly relatable at any age.