I am all for young adult books that are about disabilities or chronic illness. I went into A Step Towards Falling with high hopes but very cautious after being let down by other similar books. Fortunately, overall, I really enjoyed the messages that Cammie McGovern conveys throughout the story. I think it’s really important for people to be exposed to the fact that people with disabilities are real human beings too and that’s shown very well through Belinda and her classmates
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?
There are some difficult things to read about in this book, from the attack on Belinda to the complete ignorance about disabilities by most of the football team. I really enjoyed the arc of Emily and Lucas’s relationship and their growing understanding of the fact that being disabled doesn’t make you any less of a person. It was really touching and definitely needed in the midst of so much sadness and cruelty. One of my favorite parts of the book was when Emily did her research and stood up to the administration about the rights of disabled students being the same as everyone else—it showed growth and the understanding that she needed to stand up for what was right.
A Step Towards Falling is told through two different point of views: Emily’s and Belinda’s. While there were times when I grew frustrated with Emily and her lack of action and empathy, her point of view is very important in seeing the growth she achieves throughout the story and she obviously does feel guilty. Belinda’s point of view is very enjoyable. She is sweet, innocent, and puts her whole heart into everything she does, whether it’s sorting mail or acting out Pride and Prejudice. I loved that we got to see Belinda’s personality through her thoughts instead of just through the eyes of another person; it enhances the knowledge that she is a person with feelings and noteworthy thoughts despite the disability that most people judge her by. (Side note: her relationship with Anthony is super sweet and smile-inducing!)
There are a lot of different themes touched on throughout the book and sometimes it felt like maybe a little too much. However, the emotional impact is still very much there. The attack made me sick to my stomach, even though I know something like it could (unfortunately) happen easily in real life, and I was frustrated by the way the adults treated Belinda as broken and fragile after she initially returned to school. I really enjoyed the way Emily and Lucas’s understanding of disabilities grew and inspired them to really make a difference and not just follow through because they were required to.
A Step Towards Falling is an important addition to young adult literature. The truth and humanity of this book provide an impactful story about the importance of getting to know people and not judging based on first impressions.