A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Lots and lots of skater lore: history, safety, chants, who invented what trick when, step-by-step how-to's, and more. A character is very into making movies; lots of detail about how things that happen in real life become parts of a video narrative.
The process of overcoming a challenge or problem by breaking it down into manageable parts, whether it's homework or a skating trick, is important. Skating tips are also life lessons: "Everyone falls. It's the picking yourself up again that counts. Those are the real skaters." "If you know how to fall so you don't get hurt, you've got it made. The trick is to roll when you land."
Positive Role Models
At 12, Daphne is smart, wounded, angry, also as much an emotional support to her actor mom in their couch-surfing life as her mom is to her. Her new friend Arlo offers support and encouragement, has the wisdom to see where adults are messing up. Adult characters are nuanced, varied, all doing their best -- and, as the narrative unfolds, presenting a well-meaning version of the world and other people that isn't necessarily accurate. An adult character lies to her boyfriend so she and her son can live with him, and the lie might threaten the relationship. Tween characters share wisdom on dealing with moms who love and protect them but are often overwhelmed by life.
Takes place mostly in Oakland, California, and shows a lot of the ethnic, cultural, culinary, and economic diversity found there. Daphne and her mom -- an actor -- spend a lot of their lives couch-surfing with no real home, or struggling to come up with the rent, while her dad's parents live in a comfortable home in the hills and have helped her dad get his own place. Daphne and her family are White, her friend Arlo is Mexican American and speaks Spanish, her dad's friend Gus is also Mexican American and doesn't. The extended skating community includes all ages, genders, skin tones, and ethnicities, with a strong culture of earning, giving, and receiving respect for your skills and hard work. Several adult characters have tattoo art, and both adults and kids often develop a strong personal style.
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Violence & Scariness
A lot of emotional violence -- with a kid's sense of abandonment and heartbreak -- took place in the past and weighs on the characters. In one incident, a younger Daphne -- angry at yet another no-show by her dad -- breaks her arm attempting a skating feat well beyond her skill. An adult character was bullied as a child.
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Occasional "bull," "sucks."
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Products & Purchases
Character-defining and scene-setting product names, like Vans shoes.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Daphne's dad is recovering from alcohol dependency; his pre-recovery behavior, especially failing to show up at important moments, is a major factor in their current estrangement. In social settings, some adults drink beer and other alcoholic beverages; kids and sober adults stick with juice, boba tea, fizzy water, etc.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there's a lot to like in Learning to Fall, by Sally Engelfried (a former Common Sense Media book reviewer). It's the tale of a smart, independent, angry 12-year-old reconnecting with her estranged dad, a recovering alcoholic whose drinking destroyed their relationship and his future as a professional skater. Now she's stuck with him for the summer in Oakland, California, isn't sure what to do about it, but is finding the call of the skate park hard to resist. There's a lot of skater lore and its culture of respect and acceptance, a bit of a love song to Oakland and its many forms of diversity, and a lot of wisdom as tweens bond over trying to figure out the adults in their lives, who are generally doing their best, often mess up anyway, and try to do better. As the book's title suggests, skating skills and life lessons are often connected. "Everyone falls. It's the picking yourself up again that counts. Those are the real skaters. ... If you know how to fall so you don't get hurt, you've got it made. The trick is to roll when you land."
Is It Any Good?
Author Sally Engelfried's empathetic tale of recovery, reconciliation, and mad skills finds inspiration in skater culture as an angry tween reconnects with her estranged dad. The sport offers a lot of lessons in Learning to Fall. Also in learning to get back up and try again, in life and at the skate park -- and stereotype-busting emphasis on hard work, perseverance, acceptance, and respect.
"When I got back to the top, one of the guys said, 'Not bad for a girl.'
"'Aw, that's bull,' the other one said. 'She's better than you, and you know it.'
"'True dat,' the first guy said."
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.