Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review: A Step Toward Falling

A Step Toward Falling
By Cammie McGovern
Published: October 6, 2015

Cammie McGovern follows up her breakout young adult debut, Say What You Will, with this powerful and unforgettable novel about learning from your mistakes, and learning to forgive. Told in alternating points of view, A Step Toward Falling is a poignant, hopeful, and altogether stunning work that will appeal to fans of Jennifer Nevin, Robyn Schneider, and Jandy Nelson.

Emily has always been the kind of girl who tries to do the right thing—until one night when she does the worst thing possible. She sees Belinda, a classmate with developmental disabilities, being attacked. Inexplicably, she does nothing at all.

Belinda, however, manages to save herself. When their high school finds out what happened, Emily and Lucas, a football player who was also there that night, are required to perform community service at a center for disabled people. Soon, Lucas and Emily begin to feel like maybe they're starting to make a real difference. Like they would be able to do the right thing if they could do that night all over again. But can they do anything that will actually help the one person they hurt the most?

My review:

I liked Say What You Will but I think A Step Toward Falling is even better. This YA contemporary novel is thought provoking as it asks readers to think about what we'd do in a situation where someone was being hurt. Would we freeze up or let someone else handle the problem? Would we step in and do something about it? It is nice to think that we would do the right thing in the moment but in scary situations it is all too easy to panic. The novel also examines society's perceptions of people with developmental disabilities.

Emily considers herself to be an activist and a caring person. She wants to help the world and motivate the student body to get involved through fundraisers, petitions and awareness campaigns. She is not one of the "popular" people at school and she hangs out with a group of likewise driven or "nerdy" students. She is not used to being the person in charge however, letting her best friend Richard lead the group. I think she is surprised and horrified by her actions on the night of the football game. I liked that she was proactive in agreeing that she was in the wrong and that she'd accept whatever punishment the school decided upon. She also insisted that Lucas share equal blame and punishment. Unfortunately she lied to her friends about Lucas, letting them think he was more to blame and as they think unfavorably of "jocks", it was easier for them to accept. 

Emily initially thinks poorly of Lucas. She doesn't even realize that she holds onto stereotypes about athletes until he calls her on it. It turns out that Lucas has more depth than she expected and as she gets to know him, she realizes she misjudged him. That isn't the only mistake she makes (she can be judgmental and abrasive) but she does try to do the right thing, especially when it comes to reaching out to Belinda for forgiveness. Belinda isn't ready to talk to her however as anything and anyone associated with that night is stressful for her.

Belinda is sweet but she definitely has some challenges to work through. For one thing she has a skewered sense of reality. She idolizes Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice (the miniseries with Colin Firth) and has a hard time separating reality from fiction. She loves to act, make crafts with her mom and grandmother and help out with sorting the mail at her school. Belinda is in her early twenties and will be graduating from her special needs class this year, something that she isn't really ready for. The events of the night of the attack are slowly revealed over the course of the novel and it is really frightening what she goes through. Belinda has been at home since then but now she feels ready to return to school even if it means seeing Emily, Lucas and the other football players.

The school's punishment is for Emily and Lucas to volunteer at a center for people with developmental disabilities. They volunteer in a class that teaches about romantic relationships and how to prepare for a relationship and relate to others. Emily, Lucas and Chad, another volunteer, help the teacher illustrate appropriate and inappropriate social interaction to help the students understand. I loved this part of the book. In addition to volunteering, Lucas and Emily decide to help Belinda by putting on a play, something that Belinda loved but hasn't been able to participate in for years. I loved how Belinda, Emily and Lucas changed and grew over the course of the novel and the way they each had something to teach the others.

Overall I thought this was a fantastic novel and a strong follow up to Say What You Will. The author has a way of writing relatable characters and she gets her message across without the novel becoming an "after school special". 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss


  1. Cammie McGovern is definitely an author I want to try in 2016. Books that challenge our idealistic ideas of what we'd do in a scary situation often give us the deepest character portrayals. I'm glad you liked this one so much. 💜

  2. It is an interesting question. Would we help or would we freeze up? I'm not sure. I'd like to say I would help but until we're in that situation, we can't be sure what we'd do.

    Majanka @ I Heart Reading

  3. This sounds really interesting. I just got a book from Net Galley called Thirty-Eight Witnesses about how this girl was attacked and 38 ppl watched it happen, doing nothing. I used to be a teacher before becoming disabled, and so we were trained for this sort of thing and I know I would rush in to help. If I had kids with me, I would of course help them out of danger and assess how best to help the child being attacked, but definitely would help. Now, if it was an adult being attacked, I am not sure how I would react since I've never been in that situation before. I would like to think I would react the same way. I certainly wouldn't just watch. If I didn't go help, I'd be recruiting a small army to help me help.


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