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A Step Toward Falling is a young adult novel with 2 narrators, Emily and Belinda. Emily is a high school senior and Belinda is 22, but still goes to high school, or at least, she should be. Belinda has developmental disabilities, and she is staying home because there was an incident during a football game that left her shaken, and she is not ready to return to school. Emily had a role in that incident: she didn't cause it, but she could have done more to stop it. So the story is about how each of them get past this incident, and the process is about how they slowly come to know each other. There are some issues of sexuality and sexual orientation here, but mainly it is about the lives and ambitions of young people with developmental problems.
The plot is complicated and occasionally it drags, but for the most part it moves along quickly. Emily is a regular girl with the usual crushes and problems. Her best friend Richard is gay, and is starting to date someone for the first time, and that means that she is spending less time with him. She feels a bit abandoned. Emily's life is changing because she gets a punishment for not helping Belinda. She has to spend time with a class for young people with developmental problems, and another boy, Lucas, who was also involved in the incident, has to do it too. Lucas is on the school football team, and they are having a great season. Emily and Lucas are not friendly towards each other at first, but gradually the process of being in the classes with the other people brings them together, and, of course, romance ensues.
Belinda is a more interesting character, because she is more unusual. She lives with her mother and grandmother, and all of them seem to have some deficits or eccentricities, but they cope together. Belinda is very keen on being an actor, but she hasn't been allowed to act in any of the high school productions. Her favorite drama is Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 miniseries with Colin Firth. She has watched it many many times. She often writes to Colin Firth and sometimes thinks that he talks to her from her television. So she sometimes get some unrealistic beliefs. But she also has some strong skills and she wishes that she could find a fulfilling life once she leaves high school, which she has to do soon. The story is about her coming to interact more with the world and be less sheltered by her mother and grandmother. This also means that she needs to have more realistic expectations about other people. She starts to have fuller interactions with people from her class who also have disabilities, and she flourishes as a result.
A Step Toward Falling is rewarding because of the way it shows people with cognitive disabilities can have strength and courage, as well as humor and mischief. So it's very humanistic in its approach. Optimism is balanced with some pragmatism about the dangers of the real world. The many different scenes of classes of people with disabilities and their interactions with others are often funny, moving, and instructive. The story points clearly to a vision of an inclusive society that does not marginalize people who are different.
The unabridged audiobook is performed by Ashley Clemments and Amanda Wallace, taking on the roles of Emily and Belinda. They do a great job with the tricky task of acting as people who sometimes have difficulty with speech. This audiobook version is especially worth considering as a way of reading the novel, if reading is the right word. The text is nicely written, with relatively convincing conversation, and the performers being out its strengths.
© 2015 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York