Roll With It by Jamie Sumner. Grades 4-7. Atheneum, October 2019. 256 pages. Digital galley provided by publisher.
Ellie is a kid who tells it like it is - which surprises some people because Ellie has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. People expect her to be sunshine and inspiration, but Ellie doesn't hold back from telling people exactly what she thinks. Ellie loves baking and dreams of being a professional baker. And one big thing that's going on in her life is that her grandfather is not doing well. So Ellie and her mom decide to move to small town Oklahoma to help out.
Now, not only is Ellie the new kid, she's the new kid in the wheelchair who lives in a trailer park on the wrong side of town. It could be a recipe for disaster, but unexpectedly Ellie has met some kids that she's connected with. For the first time, she's found her people. She's found kids who not only see her but see her for who she is instead of just seeing "the kid in the wheelchair".
Now, Ellie's just got to convince her mom that moving to this small town that's kind of unequipped to handle a kid in a wheelchair - a kid sometimes in fragile health - is the best thing that's ever happened to her.
Ellie's voice grabbed me from the first page and just wouldn't let go. I honestly couldn't put this book down. This is a story with a lot of heart and humor and an absolutely unforgettable protagonist. Author Jamie Sumner has a son with CP, so she writes from a place of experience with CP and wheelchairs and the like. I don't have the knowledge to judge how accurate this story is to a disability experience, but coming from a writer who has a lot of experience with a close family member with a disability gives me some confidence in its authenticity.
So, I appreciate a story about a girl living with a visible disability and I really appreciate having a girl in a wheelchair on the cover. But at its heart, this is a story with very universal themes - finding true friends who accept you as who you are, doing what you need to do to help family members in times of need. This is a book that has wide appeal to readers who enjoy character-centered stories and characters with strong voices.
When I think about middle grade novels with strong voices, my first thought is always of Mo LoBeau in Three Times Lucky (Dial, 2012) by Sheila Turnage. Although the subject matter is different, readers who love characters with a strong voice who aren't afraid to say what they think and a story set in a small, rural town will enjoy both of these books.
Braced by Alyson Gerber (Scholastic, 2017) is an own-voices, character-centered story about 12-year-old Rachel who must wear a back brace when her scoliosis worsens. Readers interested in reading about characters living with a visible disability may enjoy both of these.
Finding true friends is a major theme in Roll With It and readers interested in more stories about girls finally finding true friends who like them for who they are may enjoy Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord (Scholastic, 2019). When Emma starts a new school after being homeschooler through fourth grade, her greatest wish is to find a best friend. But navigating new friends turns out to be harder than she thought it would be.