Cammie McGovern takes a huge risk in her latest book for young adult audiences, “A Step Toward Falling.” She uses a dual viewpoint narrative (first person) to tell the story of a developmentally disabled teen and the two other teens who see her being molested and do nothing to stop it.
Belinda is the teen with developmental disabilities who attends high school and narrates her story. She is funny and feisty, and she has her own prejudices about others. She is quick to misunderstand situations but also fiercely loyal to those she cares about. Emily is the teen who grew up seeing Belinda in acting classes but was never close to her. When she saw Belinda being molested during a high school football game, she froze and didn’t react in time to really help Belinda.
Lucas is the football player who also saw what was happening but ran past the scene. Because Lucas’ story is told through the eyes of Emily and Belinda, it takes longer to learn his whole story — but it’s just as touching as those of Emily and Belinda.
When Emily and Lucas are required to help at a class at a center for people with disabilities, they don’t know what to expect — from the people in the class and from each other. Our stereotypes of others are often far reaching and often encompass everyone outside our own circle of friends and acquaintances. Emily’s stereotype of Lucas is just as strong — and just as wrong — as her stereotype of Belinda and the others in her group. Belinda is not in the class that Lucas and Emily “volunteer” at, but McGovern brings the story together beautifully.
This beautifully written story has many messages for its readers. Perhaps the most important is to understand that those with intellectual disabilities have just as much need for emotional relationships as anyone else. Sometimes, their intellectual challenges might impede the development of such relationships, but we all have the same need to be loved.
Although this story has its dark side, to be sure, it also is a story told by McGovern with much love and humor. Everyone who reads this book will be touched and forced to question her/his own stereotypes. This would be a great middle school or high school assigned reading project. Because of the mature subject matter, it is probably not a good choice for those under the age of twelve, although there is nothing graphic in the story.
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