- A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern
ISBN 978-0-06-227113-6 $17.99 R Gr. 8-12
High school senior Emily was an enthusiastic activist (for just about any cause) until she failed, running away rather than helping when she saw a student being victimized. A school-enforced policy now has Emily, alongside football player Lucas, another witness to the event, doing community service at the Lifelong Learning Center for mentally disabled and non-neurotypical adults. Narration alternates between Emily and Belinda, the special ed student Emily saw being sexually molested by a peer; Emily attempts to make emotional restitution for her failure, and Belinda chronicles the backstory that led to her being in a vulnerable place. McGovern takes what could be preachy contrivance and turns it into a sensitive exploration of frailty and strength, setback and recovery. Characterization is strong: even as Emily softens toward Lucas and begins to understand the merits of forgiveness as well as self-blame, she’s outspoken and occasionally waspish, and Belinda is hardier than her overprotective family and school have given her credit for. The plot subverts cliché by planning glorious outcomes (an Emily-directed Pride and Prejudice starring Belinda, who loves acting and Colin Firth more than anything) that realistically founder and then get adapted into surprisingly satisfying alternatives (they perform scenes from P&P for the Center students). Ultimately, it’s a story of young people reexamining themselves, their preconceptions, and their possibilities, and readers will recognize their vulnerabilities and applaud their commitment.