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A Step Toward Falling

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Cammie McGovern follows up her breakout young adult debut, Say What You Will, with this powerful and unforgettable novel about learning from your mistakes, and learning to forgive. Told in alternating points of view, A Step Toward Falling is a poignant, hopeful, and altogether stunning work that will appeal to fans of Jennifer Nevin, Robyn Schneider, and Jandy Nelson.

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?

384 pages, ebook

First published October 6, 2015

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About the author

Cammie McGovern

16 books621 followers
Cammie McGovern was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford and received the Nelson Algren Award in short fiction. Her work has been published in Redbook, Seventeen, Glimmer Train, TriQuarterly, and other publications.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 567 reviews
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,447 reviews7,547 followers
February 6, 2017
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

The snowpocalypse doomsdayers are predicting an ice storm to roll into town some time tomorrow, which is making me pretty much feel like this . . . .

So I’m going to go ahead and barf out this review before I die from being impaled by a falling icicle.

I’m the first of my friends to read A Step Toward Falling, but I have a feeling there’s a whooooooooole bunch of snowflakes out there who will be oh so offended by everything contained within its pages. Dear People, the world is a big place – expand your horizons . . . .

The basic lesson to be learned in A Step Toward Falling is . . . .

Along with a pretty healthy dose of learning you can’t always judge a person by what’s on the outside . . . .

The story goes as follows: A fellow student attempts a sexual assault on a special-needs student named Belinda which is “witnessed” (quotes explained momentarily) by Emily and Lucas. Due to their failure to “tell someone” (quotes explained momentarily), Emily and Lucas receive 40 hours of community service (so like 10 times the punishment Brock Turner received) where they will work with young adults with disabilities in a class that focuses on socialization and relationships.

Alright, let me take a sec and ‘splain the quotes. THIS IS A TEENSY SPOILEY SO BE WARNED. First, the timeline of what happens to Belinda is seriously jacked and needed a Beta reader/editor with a better eye. To begin with, Lucas WASN’T EVEN PRESENT when the assault took place. Some other stuff and things were happening during halftime near the locker room tunnel and Lucas tried to get Belinda the heck outta Dodge to no avail. By the time she was getting groped, he was already back on the field – which means Emily’s timeline is effed too because even though she supposedly saw what was going down, she thought Lucas was going to tell someone. All of that is just fucked and it made my rating go down. Second, Emily DID try to say something. Again, whacked out timeline aside, when she saw what looked to be a superbadawful getting ready to go down she immediately tried to get a teacher’s attention. Buuuuuuuuuut the teacher was a douche and was too busy watching the game in order to bother paying any attention to a student who was obviously in distress (and ended up shutting down due to a panic attack which was the reason Belinda had to save her own ass – literally). Teacher of the year there, kids. Bottom line is I don’t think EITHER of those children should have ever been punished/felt responsible for failing Belinda. However, there wouldn’t be a story without the two getting in trouble for their “failure.”

Despite the pretty glaring problems stated above, I’m still giving this book 3 Stars. I liked that (as much as it may offend the aforementioned snowflakes) the teenagers’ voices all seemed pretty realistic. (I’m the mother of a teen and even though he’s a pretty great kid, he (and his friends) are still kind of assholes.) I appreciated having the main character with disabilities be so relatable rather than being “dumbed down” (for lack of a better term). And let me tell you even though Belinda was a bit different from the other students at her school, she was definitely my type of girl . . . .

“If I talk too much about Colin Firth, for instance, it gives teachers uncomfortable thoughts.”

And also . . . .

“I always eat the same thing, which is spaghetti noodles, butter, and Parmeson cheese. I used to think this was a healthy lunch because I used to think spaghetti was a vegetable but it turns out it’s not. That’s okay, though, I still eat it every day.”

Preach, child!

Although the catalyst to this entire book is a pretty adult subject, it was handled very delicately and the writing style/morals of the story read very young to me. Obviously it will be up to individual parents whether they feel their child is mature enough to read this or not, but I think this would be better received by late middle-graders rather than high schoolers.

Profile Image for Sarah Elizabeth.
4,727 reviews1,278 followers
October 4, 2015
2.5 stars
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to HarperCollins and Edelweiss.)

For me, this book is missing a word from its title. It should be ‘A Step Toward Falling Asleep’, because this book was so dull that I had problems keeping my eyes open.

The characters in this were okay, but I didn’t love them. I could understand why Emily would freeze up rather than getting help for Belinda, but for the rest of the book I couldn’t really relate to her at all. Belinda had obviously been through something upsetting for her, and I did feel a bit sorry for her, but I couldn’t really relate to her properly either.

The storyline in this was about Belinda going back to school, and Emily and Lucas trying to help some differently abled people as punishment for their part in Belinda’s attack. I found the whole thing pretty dull though, and really struggled to stay awake and get through this. I didn’t even enjoy the romance.

The end to this was a relief more than anything. I thing some people might like this, but for me, it was a bit of a miss.
5 out of 10
Profile Image for Anna.
371 reviews474 followers
May 11, 2015

Not only was it a pleasure to see these characters learn more about themselves and how to more kindly interact with those around them, I too felt like I learned a lot. It challenged me to think about how I would behave and react if I were in their places...and gave me some great tools and ideas for being kinder and braver and more open to others in the future.

Really good stuff. If I were a high school librarian I'd push this one like crazy...
Profile Image for alexandra.
230 reviews1,504 followers
September 3, 2020
this book was so important and realistic and adorable and great. although there were definitely times where i got kinda annoyed at the MC and thought the writing could've improved a bit. other than that I T WAS GREAT <333
Profile Image for Jen Ryland.
1,481 reviews903 followers
August 13, 2016
Books like this are why I don't give stars. I'd want to award this book bonus stars for being so incredibly well-meaning, but if I'm completely honest, at times the story dragged and at other times I felt lectured to and I struggled to keep reading.

This also bothered me: the book started out as if it was going to center around an attempted rape and its repercussions, but then seemed to not want to address that fully, just tell a story about prejudging others and how people with disabilities are people too. Yes, but... what about the attack? What happened to the rapist? Did Melinda get any counseling beyond a box of tissues from the police officer? Also, it seemed to me that the school assumed that Lucas and Emily didn't help Melinda because she was developmentally disabled and I'm not sure that was fair. Bystander education and the responsibilities of bystanders are interesting topics and I thought I was getting a story about that, not about putting on a play.

TL;TR: think I wanted this book to be something it wasn't and just wasn't feeling the book that I got.
Profile Image for Taylor.
767 reviews420 followers
November 22, 2015
I wasn't sure what to expect with this book when I started it but I ended up really loving it.
To be completely honest, it was slow most of the time. But I didn't find it to be boring at all.
I really liked the chapters from Belinda's perspective. I thought she was the most interesting character and I really liked getting to know her.
Profile Image for Miranda Lynn.
789 reviews95 followers
November 15, 2015
DNF after 32 pages

NOPE, I can't do it. I gave this book a decent try, but I just couldn't stand it.

Belinda's sections were excruciating to read, as much as I wish that wasn't true.

And I am SO against Emily being punished for something that is 0% her fault and which she tried to stop by outright telling a teacher. Like, I'm sorry, but that just makes me want to tear the pages out of this book, it's so frustrating. And Emily just takes it like "Okay, sure, I deserve this. I did something wrong." Even though she didn't! UGH.
Profile Image for Jasmine Pearl Reads.
158 reviews113 followers
October 28, 2015
Book: A Step Toward Falling
Author: Cammie McGovern
Finished Reading: September 30, 2015 (Wednesday)

I would like to thank Harper Collins International for sending me an ARC of this book. This doesn't affect nor influence my review.

Let me just tell you that this line made me weep deep inside. How true is this? How genuine is this line? This line sounds cliché to some people but the thought is on point. It is ALWAYS on point!

I’ll give you enough reasons on why you should read and buy this book when it comes out.

These were some of most heart-touching lines from this book:
“You deserve love as much as anyone else.”

“Sometimes what I do when I’m excited like this is close my eyes and imagine I’m the different parts of it.”

“You have good instincts and you’re a nicer person than I ever expected you’d be.”

I don’t want to blurb anything else aside from these. You deserve to read those other lines when you’re actually holding the book.

The character development. We all have flaws, right? It doesn’t mean that these flaws will last forever. There has to be a change. People change as time passes by. Some people change for the better. Emily was the kind of girl who tries to do the right thing. Belinda has developmental disabilities. Their worlds have MET. Emily did something which was against her will. As for Belinda, she managed to save herself. The characters simply showed that everyone must care for someone else. Everyone deserves to be loved. Everyone deserves to be special.

The story line was very realistic. All of us are different in our own ways. Some are different physically while some are different mentally. It’s all up to us on how we should treat these people. The story simply explained the world we’re living in right now.

Words can’t exactly describe how GREAT this book was.

This book is an eye-opener TO EVERYONE. Cammie McGovern’s writing style always touches my heart. ALWAYS. She didn’t disappoint me when I’ve read Say What You Will last year. I was quite hesitant to read SAY WHAT YOU WILL because of the hype buzzing around it but I think the book deserved the hype. If you haven’t read Say What You Will, now is the right time to read that book. After that one, you should go buy your copy of A Step toward Falling.

Profile Image for Gisbelle.
770 reviews218 followers
July 30, 2015
My thanks to HarperTeen

Point of View: Dual (Emily &Belinda)
Writing: First Person | Present Tense
Setting: N/A
Genre: Young Adult | Realistic Fiction

It's clear that I wasn't completely head over heel in love with this book because at time it was confusing since there weren't any indications that the scene I was reading had happened before the incident or afterward. It took a while for me to finally get used to the writing. Besides that one point, this book is FLAWLESS.

If you choose to read this book and expect it to be all about teenage romance, you probably should reconsider because this book is NOT all about the romance. Of course there are some romantic scene, and to be honest, I still can almost feel it, but it is just a very small part of the book. This book is basically about friendship and redemption.

I have read a lot of books with disabled characters, but this is one of the best. I absolutely loved Belinda! I have to admit I enjoyed reading Belinda's POV than Emily's. She is amazing and really sweet.

I had a great time getting to know each character. Anthony is a wonderful addition to the story. Lucas was adorably sweet and Emily is resourceful, kinda. I love the differences when it comes to characters' personalities.

The ending is heartwarming. That's all I can say.

In short, it's one seriously great book focusing on one of the most serious problems in our society. It's not just a book to read and enjoy, but also a book to help us understand more about disabled people and their abilities to function in the community.
Profile Image for Fafa's Book Corner.
512 reviews298 followers
November 1, 2015
Fafa's Book Corner (Wordpress)
Fafa's Book Corner (Blogger)

"Choose carefully the people whose approval you seek."

I'd first heard of this book through twitter. I follow the publishers and found all these beautiful quotes taken from the book. After reading several of them I added it to my shelf. I then proceeded to put it on hold from my local library.

This book is written in first person. The story narrates with Emily and Belinda's point of view. The book starts off with Emily's point of view as she explains that she and Lucas are both told by their school to do some community service at a center with people with disabilities. Emily and Lucas were given two options. They could do some office work or work in a classroom in which the adults with disabilities learn how to interact. They both choose the class.

For several months Belinda has not left her home. She spends her days watching Pride and Prejudice and other classics. She lives with her grandmother and mother. Her grandmother is perfectly fine with the fact that Belinda has not gone anywhere for months. Her grandmother prefers Belinda to stay home where she knows that she is safe.

Prior to the events of the book Lucas, Belinda and Emily were at a football game. While Emily was trying to cool off she saw Belinda with a guy who had her pinned against the fence. She froze and left. She tried telling a teacher but the teacher didn't hear her. Then she sees that Lucas has come from the same area she just saw Belinda and she assumes that Lucas handled it. When Emily leaves the game she sees some police cars.

A few weeks after this Emily has not seen Belinda. One day she decides to ask Belinda's friends if she was in school. They reply that they haven't seen her for awhile. For weeks she is guilty over the fact that she didn't do anything and is worried because Belinda has been absent. Eventually the guidance councilor calls Emily and reveals that she knows that Emily saw Belinda and did nothing. Emily also finds out that Lucas also did nothing. Belinda saved herself.

During the first class Emily and Lucas are introduced to the adults and do an interview exercise. Lucas does not make eye contact with Emily let alone talk to her. This angers her quite a bit. And at first she is unnecessarily rude to him. This is partly because he doesn't acknowledge her and he's a football player most of whom are jerks with giant egos. They do get along but after some time.

Belinda has an obsession with Colin Firth an actor who plays Mr. Darcy in the version of Pride and Prejudice that she loves. She thinks that sometimes while she's watching the movie he looks at her specifically. She doesn't like to bring this up to other people because they will think she is crazy. Her disability is not labeled in the book. The only thing you know is that she has some problems reading, writing and with math.

This story is about not being to quick to judge, get all sides of the story and about life. Throughout this book Emily, Lucas, Belinda and Anthony grow beautifully. They form a beautiful relationships with each other.

Lets talk about some of the things that I did not like in this book. At first I didn't like Emily nor Belinda. Emily was a bit rude and Belinda was stuck up. I grew to like them as the book went on.

The guidance counselor was so stupid! It was obvious that the reason Emily and Lucas did nothing was because they were scared. But for some reason she didn't realize that. Also when Emily went to tell that teacher, said teacher should've called Emily back and asked to repeat what she said. But she didn't. Their punishment didn't even make sense! That idiotic guidance counselor seemed to think that the reason Emily and Lucas didn't help Belinda was because they don't like people with disabilities.

The guy that attempted to assault Belinda is known for having a bad reputation. He was rumored to be involved in drugs and possibly went to jail. Yet the police did not keep a better eye on him.

I felt that the book kind of dragged at some points. And some of the plot conflicts should've been resolved earlier. Specifically with Belinda's mother standing up to Belinda's grandmother. And when Emily revealed to her friends what really happened that night I thought that their reactions should've been different.

I really enjoyed reading about the classes! They were so much fun and well thought it by the author. I liked how the author didn't name Belinda's disability. So that readers wouldn't label her. Emily's conviction to help Belinda and her ambition to change some things about their school so awesome! I love reading about advocates. Lucas and Anthony were awesome! I liked how Belinda, Emily and Lucas come to terms with what happened that night and work on their relationships with one-another. I liked how the author was able to add a distinct difference between reading Emily and Belinda's chapters. The play was also awesome!

Overall this was a good book! I would recommend it to everybody because we can all relate to some of the themes, situations, and characters.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jessica .
2,077 reviews13.3k followers
August 13, 2015
Going into this one, I knew it would be serious. I mean, it's about two people who have to volunteer at a center for disabled people after not standing up for a disabled person being attacked. I was intrigued and wanted to see if the two characters would actually learn from this mistake and become better people.

When Emily sees a disabled classmate named Belinda being attacked under the bleachers at a football game, she freezes and finds herself walking away from the altercation. Thankfully, Belinda finds a way to escape, but Emily and Lucas, a football player who also saw the attack but did nothing, must volunteer at a center for disabled people. Every class that Emily and Lucas help out at, they slowly realize that the disabled students are just regular people who may look or act a little different, but want the same things in life. Lucas and Emily realize that they really need to make a change and make up for how cowardly they had acted when Belinda really needed them.

From the moment we met the disabled characters, it was impossible not to love them. The book switched between Emily's point of view and Belinda's point of view. While they both definitely differ in maturity and Belinda's view was more unique, they both wanted the same things in life and both acted like regular girls. The moments that the disabled students were bullied were heartbreaking and I just wanted them to have a fair chance at life without being judged because of their disabilities. It was great being able to watch Emily and Lucas start to care for the students in the class they volunteered at and become inspired to make a difference in their lives.

While the emotional and serious elements were there, I found it hard to WANT to read this book. It was a good story, but nothing had me addicted to the story. If you pick up this book, make sure you have the time to read it or else you won't find yourself dying to read Emily and Lucas’s story. It was a very touching story that had a bit of romance, but there were no “wow” moments for me.

Overall, A Step Toward Falling deals with some very important issues of bullying and how disabled people are seen in the world. While I wasn't in love with the book and wanted a more engaging story, it was still a very good read that touched me.
Profile Image for Lisa (lifeinlit).
695 reviews461 followers
November 14, 2015
3.5 stars!

A Step Toward Falling is told through alternating viewpoints of Emily and Belinda. These two are both students who attend the same high school. Though they know each other, they don't really interact much. Emily stumbles across Belinda, a disable teen, being sexually assaulted by a football player under the bleachers... and does nothing. She sees someone else walk by and assumes they will take care of it, so she leaves the scene. Luckily, Belinda was able to save herself, since that other person, who happened to a football player, Lucas, did nothing as well.


After the incident is reported and it's come to the knowledge of the school that Emily and Lucas did nothing to help Belinda, they are both required to complete community service at a local disability facility. It is at this facility that they will learn many valuable lessons, including don't judge someone by their appearance or the fact that they are disabled.

I was most eager to read this book because I've never read a book that really addresses this "bystander doing nothing" type of story before. Usually in books when there is an assault, no one is around. Or if there is someone around, they interrupt and help the victim. To get a story where there were witnesses who did attempt to help at all was very unique to me. I'm happy with how this author addressed the issue as a whole, and I enjoyed these characters quite a bit.

Emily is the type of goodie-two-shoes who always likes to do what's right. She gets great grades in school and has a very promising future. Lucas is the star football player who feels he has quite a bit of weight on his shoulders to be perfect in his sport. Then we have Belinda, who is forced to leave her school after this assault, and isn't allowed to participate in school activities as she has always dreamed. These three characters get to know each other on a very deep level, which means we get to know them well too. I loved the relationship between Emily and Lucas... how they were so different in the beginning, yet really started to become friends as the story progressed. And Belinda was just adorable. I loved how innocent and blunt she could be with her words and actions. Sometimes you just need to hear the truth.


My main issue with this book was the sexual assault aspects themselves. The beginning of this story involves a rape, as I already mentioned. I thought for sure this would be addressed to a much deeper level, as well as accompanying repercussions for the assaulter as well as any treatment for the victim. I was so disappointed when at the end of the book I felt as if nothing had been addressed thoroughly. There was an assault. We got to see how it affected the victim personally, somewhat... but that was it. I wanted more. Much more.

“Expectations are sad and complicating things.”

So many significant issues were addressed in this story, involving people with disabilities, how quickly people judge others, learning from your mistakes, and growing as an individual. Though I had a few issues with this story, I do believe it dealt with a lot of this content very well. I'm not able to comment on the accuracy of the disabled characters' disabilities in this story, as I don't know those conditions personally. But as a reader, I definitely felt like the disabled characters in this story were represented in a very positive and understanding way. This book will definitely make you think about how you treat others around you, whether you judge people based on their appearance or a label, and whether you're as empathetic and sympathetic as you should be, and as others truly deserve.

Audiobook Impressions:
I'm so happy to say we get TWO narrators for this story!!! Two separate female narrators, one for Emily and one for Belinda. How awesome is that?! Both of these narrators, Amanda Wallace and Ashley Clements, we really phenomenal. Their unique voices really helped the characters' personalities shine. I would definitely recommend this audio.

(Thanks to Harper Audio for the review copy!)

Find this review and others like it at Lost in Literature!


Profile Image for Lori.
541 reviews321 followers
November 6, 2015
A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern didn’t show up on my radar until a few weeks ago when I started seeing all the glowing praise from fellow readers. I knew that I had to read it instantly. I feel like there’s been a sad lack of incredible contemporaries in my life this year and I wanted this book to fill that gap.

I think the premise for A Step Toward Falling is pretty amazing. Lucas and Emily witness something horrible and do nothing. They are then ‘punished’ by having to attend a weekly relationship class for adults with developmental disabilities. I loved seeing them learn about their peers and themselves throughout the book. There was some great character growth for Emily. I also feel like I learned and grew with them.

My only issue with the book is Emily. She was a pretty unlikable character surrounded by likable ones. She did have good character growth, like I mentioned before, but it seemed like it took her forever. She is supposed to be this great person but she continually does stupid and hurtful things. I also felt like her high school social hierarchy hangups were odd and out of place with the rest of the story. She annoyed me but I adored Lucas and Belinda.

Lucas was such a well rounded character. He definitely picked up Emily’s slack for me. He had a good heart and didn’t deserve Emily’s judgements through most of the book. He was my favorite character in the story, hands down. Belinda was also fascinating. I loved the chapters from her pov. That was a really unique element to the story. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that had a developmentally disabled main character. She was sweet and refreshingly honest. It was impossible for me not to like her.

A Step Toward Falling was a good read. I certainly enjoyed it, but my dislike of Emily kept me from absolutely loving it. I think it’s an important book with a wonderful message. We could all learn a thing or two from it.

(Probably more like 3.5 stars)
Profile Image for Arlene.
1,156 reviews641 followers
December 20, 2016
A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern definitely carried a good concept and noble intentions, but I think the story lost its way somewhere towards the mid-point. I found myself trying to just finish it up with no real interest in the outcome at the end.

In this novel, we meet Emily and Lucas who are both high school students that witness a horrible act at a football game and fail to take action. When the school investigates the situation, Emily and Lucas are held accountable for not coming to Belinda’s aid, who also happens to be developmentally disabled. As retribution for their lack of response, they are both assigned to work with these students and during their service; they come to realize a growing issue that surrounds these kids' lack of access to school programs, jobs and overall understanding from their fellow students.

McGovern chose to share this story through dual POVs from both Emily and Belinda’s perspective, which I thought was a good choice for narrating the story. However, I would have like to hear Lucas's voice to gain his perspective as well. I really liked him as a character and to hear directly from him would have added some power to the narrative IMHO.

Overall, this light YA contemporary novel started off really well, but the execution and pacing wasn't quite strong enough to make this story stand out in any significant way. Not a huge disappointment, but not a hit IMO either.
Profile Image for Kristine.
700 reviews15 followers
October 5, 2015
Original review can be found at http://kristineandterri.blogspot.ca/2...

** I received an advanced readers copy from HarperTeen via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! **

This book says so much more than just the words that are found on the page. I work in the developmental services field and I can tell you that the struggles and challenges that were presented in this book are real and present for many people. The questions and conversations around relationships and jobs and school are ones that I see on a daily basis. McGovern does an incredible job at bringing awareness to challenges that some young people living with disabilities face through a fictional story. She also captures the ignorance of some (not all) teenagers when dealing with people that are different than them.

This story has the power to make people stop and think about their actions. I really think that young people can benefit from the message that this book so effectively and silently says. It has a heart and it not only brings awareness but it gives a voice to one person (Belinda) that shows just how those actions affect them.

I enjoyed every minute of this book. I didn't always understand Emily but that's OK. The message remained the same and the story still flowed. I'm not sure what young people will think of this book but I do hope that they read it. I'm also not sure if the fact that I work with people that are similar in personality to Belinda influenced my opinion on the book. There is a squeaky clean love story to go along with all of the heavier stuff that I'm sure the young readers will enjoy.

I look forward to more work from this author!
Profile Image for Rljulie.
81 reviews7 followers
July 26, 2015
Pitch-perfect and wholly enjoyable. From descriptions one might worry that this could become heavy-handed, but it's not at all: it's a thoughtful, gentle page-turner filled with laugh-out-loud moments (and a little bit of "I've got something in my eye.")

I will give it to my teen readers, but I also want to give pass it on to adults I know. McGovern's full cast of flawed yet sympathetic characters are worth spending time with, and the subject of empathy and redemption is handled with nuance and maturity and good humor. Five stars.
Profile Image for Hannah McBride.
Author 13 books849 followers
July 12, 2015
I wish there was a way to give this no stars or rate it negative stars. This book offended me in every way possible. If you live with or work with adults with cognitive disabilities, don't read this book - you'll be furious at the stereotypes and misrepresentation. If you don't interact regularly with people with disabilities, don't use this as a basis for what it's like.
Profile Image for Laura.
744 reviews37 followers
December 20, 2015
This book was an emotional roller coaster but I absolutely loved every minute of it!
A very important and influential read surrounding honesty, understanding, and embracing difference.
Profile Image for Mishma Nixon.
342 reviews67 followers
December 29, 2015
I was really intrigued by the message this book was trying to convey. The tagline, "Sometimes, the worst thing you can do, is nothing at all " got me hooked - and is actually a really powerful quote if you think about it further - and all I wanted to know by reading this book is whether the book lived up to its potential and promise or not.

Emily is a high school activist. She speaks up for things, and she is a smart, respected and a decently popular girl in her school. So when she comes across a guy trying to rape a girl with developmental disability in a football match you would expect her to help her, right? Shout, call for help or do something to stop the crime from happening.

But she doesn't.

Nor does Lucas, a foot ball player who was at the same place at the same time. Both of them try to make up excuses for their hesitation, their mistake and the huge blunder they made which could've ruined a girl's life. But in the end, they do understand their guilt, and A Step Toward Falling is the story of how they come to terms with it, and try to amend for their hesitation to act.

My feelings are actually a bit all over the place when it comes to A Step Toward Falling. This book had a beautiful concept. A powerful message. The potential to give an emotionally impacting and raw tale about mistakes, penance, guilt and the consequences of choices. And to a certain extent the book did deliver what it promised. But if I have to say the truth, the story, and especially the writing, didn't live up to its glorious potential.

I guess the whole problem with A Step Toward Falling was that it tried to tackle too many concepts. It tried to tell too many messages which clashed a lot when it was attempted to be said in such a short contemporary book. I expected this book to talk about just choices and guilt. In fact, if the book, only tackled that major, complicated concept and left everything else, untouched, everything would have been fine! Instead, this book tried to talk about stereotypes, the rights and feelings of disabled people, the unfairness of school systems and drifting apart from your friendships. All these messages, were important, and would've made terrific novel concepts, but stuffed together in one book, they lost the ability to bring the message across.

Having said that, let me focus on the things I adored in the story. First of all, there was the character development. This book is all about characters coming to term with their mistakes and guilt, so we get to see how much the two main characters change.

Emily's initial problem is that she can't believe that she did something - or rather didn't do anything - that is so against what she and her friends believe in and often speak up for. She struggles to accept her mistake, and more than that, suffers a lot while trying to keep up appearances in front of her friends though part of her wants to confess everything. Her transition from that girl to someone who actually doesn't care what society thinks and does what she wants is remarkable.

Lucas is an enigma. I often wished we got his POV, because half of the time I struggled to understand his thoughts. But I liked his character though. I liked the way Cammie has tried to break the stereotype of a "football player". He was compassionate and his insecurities were adorable!

Then there was Belinda - the differently abled girl in question. Her chapters were emotional. She had a big heart, an innocence which will touch you for sure, and my heart broke for the horrible experience she goes through. But I also admired her bravery, as she got through an experience which is one the worst a girl can ever go though and she totally tackled it with flying colours!

Another character I want to mention - Anthony. An adorable guy with down syndrome who has a huge crush on Belinda. These two had a cute relationship! He was also forgiving, compassionate and had so many great qualities that even perfectly stable and well adults often lack to possess. It was beautifully ironical that differently abled people are considered as "less" when they're so much more than us all when it comes to their heart and soul.

So what went wrong? The execution. Cammie McGovern didn't do a satisfactory job in executing a story with wonderful potential and it actually made me a bit angry. I felt like this book was such a waste. It could've been so much more, could've broadcasted a beautiful and important message to all readers, but the reality didn't meet up to the expectations here, sadly.

Would I recommend this book? Certainly. While the book didn't have good execution, it did carry a powerful message which is often not explored in YA contemporary. The book will certainly make you question your choices, your beliefs and most of all, whether you actually are the person you appear to be.
Profile Image for Jess at Such a Novel Idea.
597 reviews178 followers
October 5, 2015
This originally appeared on Such a Novel Idea.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I was a huge fan of Cammie McGovern’s first book, Say What You Will, so I was pretty excited to see what she would do with this book. And I have to say, I really enjoyed reading it.

I have a son with moderate to severe autism, so reading books about people with disabilities is something I both seek out and avoid at all costs. I wish could explain that sentence in more coherent thoughts, but it is something that has baffled me since I first found out about Austin. While I want to get my hands on everything I can, and while I feel myself drawn to and connected with works about people with special needs, I can also get completely overwhelmed by them. However, Say What You Will was such a great insight for me that I trusted McGovern going into this book.

This story has a lot going on. It centers around three characters: Belinda, Emily, and Lucas. Belinda is a 21 year old woman who is in her last year of high school through the special education program. She is attacked by classmate during a football game — and two witnesses, Emily and Lucas, are paralyzed to action. Now, when you read that in the synopsis, you think all kinds of things like how is this possible, how could they do nothing, etc. But, there’s a reason people are told to yell fire instead of rape. In our society, there is something about not getting involved, not acting, that has become the norm. So as I thought of that, and thought of what I would do, I began to see Emily and Lucas for what they were… two scared kids.

Now, the actual attack is explained somewhat by Belinda, but we never get the full story. It’s hard to know if that is the point of the author or not, but to me it made it seem as if *what* happened to Belinda less important than the fact that no one came to her aid. I can see this offending some readers, but McGovern handled it in a respectful manner than I was able to appreciate.

At the same time, there is Belinda dealing with her family life — having them come to terms with who she is and testing her strengths and limits. I love that she was able to expose herself to new things after such a traumatic experience, something that would be hard for anyone to do, developmentally delayed or not.

Emily and Lucas are both dealing with who they are as people, who the world sees them as, and who they choose to associate with. While on the outside the two seem as different as night and day (the popular football player and the driven academic), they slowly find out that perspective and perception change how we see the people we think we know.

I enjoyed the scenes where Emily and Lucas volunteered for the group of adults; seeing the interactions in this class and the discussions Emily and Lucas had were really interesting. Like how we treat people with disabilities and what we expect for them and from them. While there was no resolution to this part of the book, it really opened my eyes. No matter if a person is neurotypical, physically able, or disabled, having a sense of purpose and responsibility is important.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this book. At times, I felt like there were so many that I wasn’t sure if I was appreciating what the author was trying to do or if I was overwhelmed. But by the time I got to the last page, I had a smile on my face. I was happy for how things turned out for the three characters and left with some new insights into just how I want to treat my own son. And once again, McGovern showed the world that a person with disabilities is just as complex a human as anyone else. Which is the most important lesson of all.
Profile Image for Madison.
1,065 reviews59 followers
September 2, 2015
A Step Toward Falling is a book that is beautifully written and has a wonderful message of friendship and love, of fear and bravery, and of learning to reach out and stand up. This is a book that is well worth reading.

Lucas and Emily. One a successful football player and part of the popular social group at school, the other an academic activist. Now they are connected by one night where they both failed to act when Belinda, a fellow student with developmental disabilities, was being attacked. As Belinda deals with the aftermath of the attack she must decide what direction she wants her life to take, while Emily and Lucas must each deal with their guilt while undertaking community service at a relationship skills class hosted at the local centre for people with disabilities.

When I first read an excerpt of A Step Toward Falling I made the mistake of assuming the dual points of view would be from Emily and Lucas and the book would focus on their journey of meeting and working with each other. I was wrong. This book is so much more than that. The dual points of view are actually told by Emily and Belinda. While this book is about Emily and Lucas' journey, it is equally, if not more so, about Belinda. It is about falling in love, but it encompasses two love stories not one, and it is also about friendship and learning more about caring for the individuals around you.

Belinda was my favourite character. She is so strong and brave. She has been hurt, but is pretty smart about what she needs to do to move forward and about learning from something bad that ends up bring a lot of good for people. Emily on the other hand kind of drove me nuts. Now, no character in this book is perfect, they all have flaws and quite a bit to learn about being nicer to people, but Emily really takes the cake. She isn't mean on purpose, she just sometimes seems oblivious to how what she says hurts others. I thought she was especially obliviously rude to Lucas. But this book is about becoming aware and Emily does learn to reflect on what she says and assumes, I just found that Belinda is far more aware of this and reads as a much nicer character as a result. Lucas makes a nice contrast to Emily. As the story is not presented from his view point, we never really get much of an insight into his life, just fragments as he talks with Emily. There was a lot more I wanted to know about Lucas, about his home life, his goals for after school and his relationship with his father. Unfortunately we don't get to see much of this, but there are a lot of different stories in this book; Belinda and her mother and grandmother, the respective friendship and class groups at school, and of course the Life Skills class group at which Emily and Lucas volunteer. I have to say I learnt a lot about communication and expectations from reading about their interactions, and I loved all the different characters and personalities that emerged as a result.

At first the story really jumps all the the place time wise, moving from Emily's first day at the centre, to just after the attack, to before, to during and back again. As the story continues though this straightens out, with just a few jumps back to clarify the details of that night. As the story progressed I also became more connected with the characters.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved that it was Belinda's story and that she got to tell it. This is a book that is perfect for changing world views, or maybe just changing how you see and treat the people around you.

The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Find this review and more like it on my blog Madison's Library.
Profile Image for Dark Faerie Tales.
2,274 reviews545 followers
May 29, 2016
Review courtesy of Dark Faerie Tales

Quick & Dirty: A thought provoking read.

Opening Sentence: At our first meeting with the director of the Lifelong Learning Center, Lucas doesn’t speak to me once.

The Review:

The story is told from three perspectives: Belinda; the disabled victim of a traumatic experience and Emily and Lucas; the two high school students who witnessed Belinda being assaulted yet did not call for help. Although they did not intend to leave Belinda helpless, neither were brave enough to cry out so in the end Belinda saved herself despite her disabilities.

It was interesting to see how the incident affected all the parties, not just the victim. Both onlookers feel incredibly guilty for not stopping the awful act and come together through their community service, where they interact and help other people with disabilities. Essentially they want to help Belinda but is it too late? It was sad that neither Emily nor Lucas helped Belinda when she needed it the most, but it made me question what I would have done if I was in the same situation? Would I have frozen and been unable to help, or turned a blind eye in the hope that someone else would stop the assault? I really hope not but until you’re in that situation you never know…

I’m surprised at how I almost start to cry saying this. I don’t know why, because the play is over and I don’t need to be nervous anymore. I’m not sad about anything. I’m happy and I’m about to waltz dance with Anthony, but maybe happy is a little like sad because I do start to cry.

The theme of this story is not just creating awareness of those with special needs and making people realise that there’s more to them than speech or hearing impairment; it highlighted how deeply these people feel and they tend to be far more perceptive than we give them credit to be. A Step Toward Falling also explores the issue of stereotypes based on first appearances, when often the first judgment falls short of reality. This is explained by using Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as an example and I found it interesting to see how the issues in that story are prevalent in this day and age.

“Why would I do that?”
“To freak him out. Mess with his head. Those football guys and their cheerleaders have no capacity to deal with anyone outside their circle.”
Richard rolls his eyes. Even Barry has to say, “The thing is, Candace, sometimes you forget that other people are human beings.”
“Not everyone, Bear. Not everyone.”

In this book there are three main romantic ‘pairings’ and what I liked most was that although each couple is very different, the problems they face are all too similar. Belinda and Anthony both have disabilities but their dilemma of being afraid of commitment is something that Hugh and Richard, the gay couple, also face. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a high school quarterback or the victim of a sexual assault; the problems faced tend to be the same.

What Lucas said in the lobby last night has stuck with me because he’s right: Friendships are complicated. Friends have power. Friends can break your heart.

A Step Toward Falling was based on an intense theme but there was plenty of humour to lighten the read. It’s not something I would have normally picked up but I’m glad I did because the characters in this story will stay with me even after I’ve closed the book.

Notable Scene:

My mom says it’s good I was born now not a long time ago because back then they didn’t know what to do with people like me. I think she means people who believe in romance and love, because I do. [Belinda]

FTC Advisory: HarperTeen provided me with a copy of A Step Toward Falling. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
Profile Image for Jen.
912 reviews113 followers
October 18, 2015
4 stars

I read Cammie McGovern’s debut, Say What You Will, two years ago and highly enjoyed the way she writes characters with disabilities. These types of YA novels come few and far among the dystopian and cute-sy contemporaries, so it’s always refreshing to read about a story that probes deeper into the lesser-explored notions of society and human nature. Although her latest, A Step Toward Falling, isn’t as hard-hitting as her debut, I still adored A Step Toward Falling and think it’s influential in ways other YA stories can’t replicate.


Unlike her previous work, A Step Toward Falling is told from two girls: Emily, the one who witnesses the incident, and Belinda, the one involved in the incident and has a disability. I think McGovern did an outstanding job with these two narratives because not only do we receive insight on what it’s like to feel like an outsider and to be treated differently from Belinda’s perspective, but we also get the perspective of Emily who is riddled with guilt for not taking action.

One girl may be disabled (McGovern doesn’t reveal what exactly is Belinda’s disability, which is precisely the point), but we learn that Belinda is not so different from Emily. McGovern doesn’t make Emily a cliché popular girl to set a contrast; in fact, McGovern focuses on the normality two girls who want to have friends and not be isolated all the time. My heart went out for Belinda, but also Emily.

Emily is hard to like in the beginning because she’s flawed and at fault for what happened to Belinda. She’s judgmental and only sees the first layer of people. Nonetheless, her character growth is astounding and lovely to witness.


I admit, some parts of the story felt a little preachy, but I received the messages McGovern wanted to convey loud and clear. I’m glad she includes these important themes in A Step Toward Falling because they are often neglected before it’s too late, especially among teens. My outlook on treating people has changed for the better, thanks to McGovern’s moving story.


There is a slight romance in the story for both Emily and Belinda (not a love triangle), and I think in this case, it’s an important tidbit. Romance is a huge part of high school and contrary to belief, people with disabilities seek love too. McGovern covered this aspect with respect; Emily’s romance is subtle and just right for the story.


A Step Toward Falling is in one word, important. I really do hope more readers pick this book up because seriously, it will change your outlook on society. Through the realistic perspectives of Emily and Belinda, McGovern relays the significant themes that teens need to be aware of. A Step Toward Falling will undoubtedly stay with me for a long time.

Check out this review and more at Books and Other Happy Ever Afters

Profile Image for Gary Anderson.
Author 0 books84 followers
January 13, 2016
I’m glad authors like Cammie McGovern are writing books like A Step Toward Falling. McGovern’s 2015 novel gives us two alternating narrators: Belinda, a young woman with cognitive disabilities nearing the end of her high school years who is reluctant to return to school after being sexually assaulted under the bleachers at a football game; and Emily, a high school senior who witnessed the attack on Belinda but, because she did nothing about it, is required to “volunteer” in a Boundaries and Relationships class at a center for intellectually impaired young adults.

Just as Emily’s friends and enemies struggle to figure out how friendship, relationship, and sexual intimacy relate to each other, Belinda and the other disabled students wrestle with the same questions. The disabled students have the added complications of not completely understanding the complexities involved in these issues, as well as societal prejudices about what is appropriate for them to experience. A Step Toward Falling provides insights into how these students see themselves, as well as how they relate to their peers and family members.

But McGovern’s novel is more than just another “social problem” book. The author explores how all of us are defined and affected by the choices we make when confronted with problems. Several years ago our school had some special education students clean the glass in the hallway doors. I suppose the idea was to give them some responsibility and some stake in school pride. Although most other students simply walked around the window cleaners without giving them much notice, there were also those who chose to say things like, “Hey, retard. You missed a spot.” We can easily characterize the despicable nature of that kind of response and recognize it as evidence of a certain kind of impairment itself. But what about those who witness such abusive actions and do nothing? Of course, doing nothing is actually a conscious or unconscious response, so it’s not really “nothing,” and that absence of an overt response can have profound effects on those who just stand there or turn away, not to mention the victims of the negligence.

A Step Toward Falling deals with how to move forward. How does Belinda move forward after being subjected to violence and humiliation? How does Emily move forward after discovering something unpleasant in herself? Other characters in the book make these kinds of decisions too, and readers will easily relate to their struggles, epiphanies, and choices. As the title suggests, moving forward isn’t always easy or smooth, but reading books like this one can help readers know they are not alone as they take wobbly steps in the right direction.

Cross-posted on What's Not Wrong?
Profile Image for Just a person .
995 reviews294 followers
August 26, 2015
I wanted to read A Step Toward Falling because I was interested in the bullying of a girl with disabilities. I think that it is such an important subject, and even though Emily wasn't the one doing the bullying, the silence of Emily when she saw it is the big turning point of the story. She is sentenced with community service working with young adults with disabilities.

The story is told in dual perspectives with Emily and Belinda, the said girl that was bullied. I am not sure that I have ever read such a perspective, but it felt well done. We can see the places where she is delayed or has problems and how the whole situation effected her. Emily is able to learn from the people in the relationship class that she is volunteering at. She also learns a lot about Lucas, the football player who also saw the situation and also did nothing as well as a returning volunteer.

They both brought a lot to the story and saw things in completely different ways. In some ways Belinda is very mature, in others she is delayed. She is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, the long version, as well as a football player who did a dance for the disabled. She thinks that means they are boyfriend and girlfriend, but of course, he was only there because of community service, so that led to very awkward situations.

Emily learned so much from the class she is helping with, but she does come to the conclusion that although she is helping in some ways the students in the class, but she is doing nothing that actually helps Belinda who for most of the story isn't even going back to school. She remembers more of the incident at the football game, although she doesn't understand what all it means. I liked it when she finally started to do things to make up for what she did, and try to help Belinda heal, and for others to see her, and others with disabilities in a different way.

The ending was nice, and wrapped things up. There was character development and an important message.

Bottom Line: A look into teens who didn't do anything when they saw a girl with disabilities being bullied, and their character growth facing the consequences.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,845 reviews
October 7, 2015

A Step Toward Falling is a Young Adult contemporary novel that could also be classified as realistic fiction. This is my first book by author Cammie McGovern.

The narrators of this book are 17 year old Emily and 21 year old Belinda.

When the book starts high school students Emily and Lucas are starting community service at a center for people with disabilities. We know that something happened. But we don't know why they are doing community service.

The book focuses a lot on Emily, Lucas and Belinda. Emily is sort of nerdy and runs a social activist group at school. Lucas is a big guy who is popular and part of the football team. And Belinda is in a special education program and loves to act. These three all go the same high school. But when something happens to Belinda and Emily and Lucas witness it all their lives change forever.

Each chapter features both narrators (Emily and Belinda). At the beginning of the book I really preferred Emily and was a bit bored by Belinda's parts. It wasn't that Belinda was a bad person. I just did not find her part of the story interesting (much of what she did was stay home and watch the same movie over and over). I really found Emily's story to be fascinating.

I found it very neat that the book focused so much on characters with disabilities. It really made this book different for me.

As the book progressed I did find Belinda's parts to be much more enjoyable. Although I was so annoyed that

This book focuses on a lot on of important issues: how disabled people are treated, judging people wrongly by first impressions, redemption, friendship, witnessing a crime. The book wasn't perfect. But it will make you think about a lot of significant issues.

Thanks to edelweiss and HarperTeen for allowing me to read this book.
Profile Image for Steve.
204 reviews1 follower
February 22, 2016
This book reminded me of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, in quite a few ways. While it does tackle some very serious subject matter, this is a relatively light, easy read. Still, the characterizations are good. On the surface, there are obvious themes here - don't judge others on appearances, forgive others and seek forgiveness, treat others with dignity and compassion, and "Choose carefully the people whose approval you seek." (pg. 350) - but thankfully, they all go a bit deeper than that.

Worth noting, the characters who have special needs aren't put on a pedestal, perfect in every way apart from their disability - they get angry and make mistakes just like any of the other characters. If Belinda (the main character with special needs) weren't as richly painted, it would be hard to take the book seriously. Emily (the main character without special needs), on the other hand, comes across as a pretty typical YA lead. The real depth of the book comes from alternating between the two, showing that while society labels them differently, they are both human, with at least as many similarities as differences.
Profile Image for Jenny Jo Weir.
1,545 reviews79 followers
November 6, 2017
Sweet, endearing and thoughtful.

I like the way the subject matter is addressed and I liked the progression of the story itself. I enjoyed understanding the different angles and was easily engulfed by this book.

I will say I wish a certain someone would have been more forthright sooner and I struggled with the weird secrets between best friends but high school is full of struggles for everyone, so I'm not judging, just wish I could have related to it a tad more.
Profile Image for Andrea.
712 reviews107 followers
February 4, 2017
"If I had done any of those things, I would have changed the story. Belinda would still have been attacked, but instead of learning the brutal truth about violent people, she would also have learned that there are people in the world who will help her. "

This book is a fresh addition to YA with issues of advocacy, disability and tolerance. The audiobook was especially well done :)
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