A Step Towards Falling is book about unspeakable horror, not speaking out, and, ultimately, friendship forgiveness and redemption.
The story begins from the perspective of Emily, who is begrudgingly at her first meeting at the Lifetime Learning Center(LLC) learning about her community service in the Boundaries and Relationships class. She’s with the less-than-enthused, but cute, Lucas, giant football player. We quickly learn that they are in trouble for not taking action. When does NOT acting get you in trouble? When you literally walk past one of the most vulnerable members of your school, who is pushed in a dark corner by a sketchy classmate, and think, “oh, someone else is getting help.”
The vulnerable student is Belinda. She is developmentally disabled and both the victim of the crime perpetrated by the person who attacked her, and the victim of Emily & Lucas’s passive behavior. She manages to save herself from these awful crimes, but must also recover from the psychological damage of the attack. She begins this novel as the second narrator, who stays home from school and gets to watch Pride and Prejudice as many times as she wants.
I believe McGovern’s intention in writing this novel the first-person voice of both characters is to put the reader in both Emily & Belinda’s shoes and grow with them over the course of the novel—with instead of just as an observer. Emily has long prided herself on being a teen of action, actually founding the Youth Action Coalition with her best friend Richard. It is terribly, terribly ironic that she freezes and fails to act at such an important moment in Belinda’s life. As she goes through the LLC classes for her community service and learns more about all types of disabilities, she is able to open herself up more to Lucas and her life experiences. Belinda becomes less of someone she doesn’t understand and she’s able to lower her guard enough to truly see Belinda as a person and not her disability.
The same is true with Belinda. Whereas, she is difficult to understand at the beginning of the novel, my lessons (as the reader) from the LLC courses bring her into a much different light and help the reader see through her disability to her heart. McGovern builds Belinda as the strongest character of the book because she has the longest and hardest road to trek with readers. Honestly, it’s brilliant storytelling.
There are forces outside of these characters that they must also face—friends, suitors, public ridicule, social cliques. McGovern builds a very realistic high school structure outside of her two main characters, especially, Lucas. He may be a giant football player without much to offer the world outside of sports, but he is also a strong and conflicted character, struggling to break free of his oppressive social circle. There is diversity in all the characters represented, as well as social circles to which these characters respond, which McGovern featured in alternating and realistic good and bad light.
McGovern’s writing style needs to also be commended. She really gave Emily and Belinda their own special internal and external voices. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to have these characters float right off the page and create their own stamp on my heart. While she could have played into stereotypes, McGovern beautifully painted these ladies and all their supporting characters.
A Step Towards Falling is out now.
We review Cammie McGovern’s first book, Say What You Will, here.