A Step Toward Falling

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
A Step Toward Falling Book Poster Image
Thoughtful coming-of-ager about looking beneath the surface.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Lots of insight into and information about people with learning disabilities. Broad plot outline and some details about Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and film and TV adaptations.

Positive Messages

Choose carefully the people whose approval you seek. In other words, make sure the people you want to think highly of you are worth it. Don't judge people before you get to know them. Sometimes people just can't do things, and that's OK; they shouldn't be forced to keep trying to do something beyond their capabilities. Friendship and love mean caring about the other person's feelings as much as you care about your own. Teens discuss why "retarded" is a bad word to use even when referring to ideas, not people. A gay friend is described as not stereotypically gay in a way that reinforces the idea that the stereotypes are real. Differing expectations for relationships are divided and generalized by gender.

Positive Role Models

Emily is an AP student who comes across as snobbish sometimes but who wants to correct and be punished for a big mistake she made that hurt another student. She's tries to make the world a better place through activism and learns when action is really needed. Belinda is brave and learns how to care about others' feelings as much as her own. She and Emily both learn they're capable of more than they think they are and not to limit themselves or cut themselves off from possibility or the unknown. Lucas is kind, thoughtful, very insightful, supportive, and a creative thinker.


A past sexual assault is briefly described with body parts hinted at. The aftermath of the assault is a major theme for the two narrators. A group of football players kick, spit on, and step on a developmentally disabled female student.


A few kisses with brief descriptions, some hand-holding, and lots of teen and young adult discussions about relationships, some of which briefly touch on sexuality.


Infrequent and strong. "F--k" and variations, "s--t" and variations, "asshole," "butt," "d--k," "pansy-ass loser," "rips--t."


Occasional mention of crafting supply stores and the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth to establish character.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention of past drunkenness to the point of throwing up with embarrassing consequences. Past pot smoking mentioned and that it was possibly laced with LSD.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byRJMcArthur May 15, 2019

Just fine

I liked the overall message a lot, but the journey to get there felt a little tedious.
Teen, 13 years old Written byHeyItsJess05 December 30, 2018
The book was amazing, the story line fit almost perfectly and made sense to me completely. I would completely recommend to anyone who loves drama or romance. Th... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byEm.04. February 20, 2018

Surprised, a major point in review missing

I think the review here on this website is leaving out a very important part in the book. It should say what the major part is because I think parents should kn... Continue reading

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love friendship tales

Themes & Topics

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