Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Review: A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern

368 pages
Expected publication: October 6th 2015 
Published by HarperTeen
Rating: 3/5
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?

Belinda, who suffers from developmental disabilities, is attacked under the bleachers at a football game. Since Emily and Lucas witnessed but failed to report the assault, they are forced to volunteer at a center for disabled people. But how can their new role help the one person they abandoned when she needed them the most?

The most important thing you should know about this book is that it carries a couple of very important messages. The biggest one of all is that a disability doesn't define a person. Belinda's point of view doesn't portray her as a character but as a young woman trying to figure out her future.  It was a unique experience to be in the head of someone with a disability. Seeing the world through a different set of eyes made me stop and reevaluate the way I perceive people with disabilities. While Belinda has similar dreams and aspirations as another person her age, her hurdles are exponentially bigger. However, her disability shouldn't set her apart from everyone else because it only hinders the way she approaches things. I love that I was able to take this away with me.

The other big lesson that Cammie McGovern wants you to learn is that speaking up is very important, regardless of how easy it is to do otherwise. This might be aimed to a younger audience but I know plenty of adults that would benefit from a little reminder. I know I did.

Switching gears a little, I want to talk about a few technicalities. The alternating points of view were done very well. Both girls have a distinctive voice and this was a highlight for me. However, I had a few issues with both pacing and plot. Some scenes and characters came off as unnecessary.  I wasn't that interested in the development either because nothing really took off.  I wasn't drawn to the book at all and it took me a few days to finish. I kept finding excuses to walk away from it ("Oh, look! That Doctor Who episode I've seen a hundred times is on!" or "I'm sure someone needs me to do something right about now. Let me go check.") and that's usually a sign that an emotionally connection is not there. This is a huge bummer because I tried really hard to love it but I just couldn't.
A Step Toward Falling is an okay read that delivers a powerful message. Unfortunately, while I learned a lot and I walked away with a new perspective on life, I wouldn't call this one a memorable novel.  Even though I prefer this one over her previous novel, Say What You Will, both are lacking that little something special that differentiates a good novel from a brilliant one.
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