A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Step Toward Falling is a coming-of-age story from Cammie McGovern, the author of Say What You Will. As with that book, teens will gain a deeper understanding of and empathy for people with disabilities: One of the two narrators, Belinda, is developmentally challenged. It'll encourage teens to think about capabilities, limitations, and possibilities. Both narrators are great role models who learn from their mistakes and become better. A major plot theme is a sexual assault in the recent past. It's not described in detail, but the emotional consequences are explored extensively. Strong language is infrequent but includes "f--k," "s--t," and "d--k." The only violence is a vague description of the assault, which happened after Belinda was kicked, spat on, and stepped on by a group of football players. Past use of pot and alcohol are mentioned once, with the embarrassing consequence of throwing up at a party. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is another major theme, and the characters learn many of the same lessons explored in that classic.
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What's the story?
Emily is an AP high school senior and founding member of the school's activism club. But when a fellow student really needed her help, Emily froze and was unable to take action. As a consequence, Emily has to help out at a learning center for people with disabilities. As she gets to know the young adults there, she learns to see everyone, from the physically challenged to the football star, as more than meets the eye. She wants to make things right with Belinda, the girl she was unable to help. She formulates a plan with Lucas, a football player who was involved in the same incident, to do something nice for Belinda that will showcase her talent. But does Belinda even need their help? How do you make up for a past failure that really hurt someone?
Is it any good?
With her second YA novel, Cammie McGovern again demonstrates her talent for creating believable, compelling, and relatable characters. Teens will enjoy Emily and Belinda's journeys to becoming young adults who know what they're capable of, won't place limits on themselves, and aren't afraid to face the unknowable future.
The writing's lively, and the story provides a lot of food for thought. Some of the parallels McGovern constructs between this modern-day story and the classic Pride and Prejudice are a bit contrived, and serious Jane Austen fans won't be surprised by who turns out to be worthwhile and who doesn't. But most teens won't mind as they learn from and root for the engaging Emily and Belinda.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way schools do or don't accommodate people with differences or challenges. Do you agree with the principal, who feels students with disabilities should be protected and sheltered from the mainstream? Or do you agree with Emily that they need to be challenged to learn how to handle real-world situations?
Stories about characters with physical or mental challenges are increasingly popular in young-adult novels. Why do you think that is? What's compelling about these stories?
Lucas says that friendships are more complicated than romance. Do you agree? How are some of the friendships in A Step Toward Falling complicated?
- Author: Cammie McGovern
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperTeen
- Publication date: October 6, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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