Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
Release Date: October 6th, 2015
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
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There's always a clear distinction between throwing in certain characters as an aside in a a story -- the token black girl, the sassy gay friend -- and truly creating a story with dynamic, diverse characters. Cammie McGovern does the latter, exploring different ways those with disabilities can function and interact, without reducing them to gimmicks. These characters are the heart and soul of the book, carrying the story.
The events of A Step Toward Falling begin when Belinda, a developmentally disabled senior, is being attacked behind the bleachers at a football game. Emily sees and freezes in panic mode, doesn't physically help her. She sees Lucas coming out from behind the bleachers too and figures he must have stopped it or said something, he figures the same and neither of them do anything. Belinda eventually saves herself by yelling and getting the attention of a janitor, who calls the cops. The guidance counselor makes Emily and Lucas volunteer at a Boundaries and Relationships class taught at a learning center for disabled adults as they are both responsible for not speaking out.
The story is told in alternating points of view: Emily's and Belinda's. Honestly, I'm glad we had Emily's and Belinda's and not Emily's and Lucas's because while I did really love Lucas as a character we got to learn so much more about Belinda this way than we would have from the scenes we would have seen if we only saw her through the other two's limited vision. Also, while I'm not really too sure Emily was a character I liked all that much, I feel like I appreciated her point of view, if that makes sense? I didn't hate her, I just felt like she could be a little full of herself sometimes and she didn't see the way her words affected others. In the beginning, she had this image that all football players are dumb and none of them need to go to college and blah blah blah and now she meets Lucas and he can hold a decent conversation and he's funny and decently smart and she knows those cracks get to him but she still makes them and doesn't realize it's rude? And she still has all her notions about her "smart" friends and the "popular" kids. Like, in one part Lucas is talking about what they do at parties and she's literally like "I think about how my friends and I talk about weightier issues. Usually it's through music and song lyrics that we analyze to death." Just think about a bunch of high school seniors sitting in a bedroom analyzing printouts of song lyrics. Think about it. She's a little off kilter but I think ultimately she has a good heart.
Belinda provides us with a stark contrast to Emily. She sees the world differently than her point-of-view counterpart. Where the audience understands things, Belinda doesn't. For example, when Ron, a football player, and his friends laugh at her attempts to ask him to watch Pride and Prejudice with her, the audience knows they are being rude, but Belinda thinks they are a group of people who laugh a lot and something funny has happened unrelated to her question. She's more well-adjusted than some of her classmates -- one is wheelchair-bound and cannot speak or move due to his cerebral palsy and her close friend with Down Syndrome is often hard to understand -- but still is struggling to find work once she finishes high school. Her main job in school was sorting mail, but clerical jobs like that are few and far between and the list of disabled people up for them is in the hundreds. Her grandmother refuses to let her do janitorial work, so she has few options. This dilemma of hers did well to highlight a huge real life problem for those with disabilities. Many are unable to find jobs that suit their needs and the waiting lists for jobs available are ridiculous.
As the story provides us with insight into these characters and more, not only does everyone grow on you, but the whole story just grows on your heart. Some of my favorite parts were reading about Lucas and Emily's volunteering sessions at the center. Cammie McGovern didn't write a classroom full of disabled characters like children who needed to be taught manners and discipline and control. She wrote them like the people they are who have a different set of rules for their lives. And Lucas and Emily talked to them like people, not awkward creatures to skirt around, which the discussion leader mentioned in one class as well. Speaking of Lucas, he was one of my favorite characters. I felt like he was the most compassionate, the most kind, and had the biggest heart. Without seeing his point of view, he had an air of mystery (maybe a little more mystery than I wanted but it happens), but we got to know him through dialogue, which Cammie McGovern did excellently. His character development was done beautifully, not too rushed or too slow, and I'm just in love with him as a person and as a character.
I feel like there is so much about this book and I've just spent all these words just talking about characters but there's a lot more and I don't want to bore you. Basically, the story is excellent and well done and equal parts funny and cute and sad and witty and all the YA things you could ask for. There are characters you will totally love, like Belinda and Anthony, and there are some really shitty characters like Ron and Richard (ok I know Richard is supposed to be redeemable but I really don't like him, he's Emily's "best friend" but he's pretentious and selfish and she can do better; actually all her friends kinda suck).
There was some of the actual writing that was a little iffy for me but not enough that I didn't like the general feel of the book, just a few lines here and there. Like, in the beginning, Emily is attracted to a boy so she thinks "I feel a tingle in my armpits." My armpits have never ever been a place that have tingled in any situation ever and I doubt they ever will so that was just weird. There were a few other random lines that just didn't fit but overall the book was well written. Also, some situations in the book felt a little unrealistic while some were done pretty well. Like, many of us know there's a big issue with rape culture and victim blaming and assailants getting off without many repercussions, so I wasn't sure if the backlash was something that would happen, but it wasn't something I disliked because it felt like a portrayal of how situations should go. Also, this could totally be how some school handle situations where they have proof of assault. Another thing was the whole trope where the football players are idolized and worshipped and are jerks and airheads mostly. I don't know many high schools where this was actually true. But it didn't detract from the story, so it's not a huge complaint.
I feel like I could probably talk about a decent amount more but, on an end note, it does an amazing job discussing the stories of people with disabilities, whose voices we definitely need more of. Cammie McGovern works with disabled children and young adults in a resource center and also has an autistic son so she has first hand experience connecting and interacting with those with disabilities which means she isn't just pulling their personalities and mannerisms from thin air, she's working from real-life experiences. This gives the book authenticity and makes it that much more important because these are positive, accurate portrayals of disabled people, which are lacking in novels and media.
Have you ever not done something you should've (or vice versa)?
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Let us know in the comments!