Sometimes one mistake can change everything.
Emily doesn’t know why she froze. Or why Lucas did too. They could have helped Belinda, but they didn’t.
Sometimes people can surprise you.
Emily thought she knew Lucas. And she thought she understood Belinda. But maybe she judged them both too quickly.
Sometimes good can come from bad.
Emily and Lucas’s punishment is community service with people with disabilities. People like Belinda. Soon they feel like maybe they’re starting to make a difference. But can they do anything to help the one person they hurt the most?
A Step Toward Falling is a wonderful story about developmental disabilities, doing the right thing, and not judging people by their appearances. It was definitely an eye-opening read with some diverse characters that are rarely featured in YA, but I thought that the book felt a little bit long and draggy in parts.
The story kicks off with Emily and Lucas being sent to do mandatory volunteer work as punishment for not helping a student in need even though they were both present at the scene. At a football game, they witness a student with disabilities, Belinda, being sexually assaulted but neither of them make a real effort to report the crime and get help. In order to teach Emily and Lucas to be more sympathetic to disadvantaged populations, they are required to volunteer weekly at a class that teaches young adults with disabilities about relationships and boundaries. But Emily and Lucas soon realise that their volunteering isn’t directly helping Belinda, so they set out on a mission to make a difference in her life.
“If you witness an assault, it’s your responsibility to tell someone.”
Even though this novel deals with some serious issues, it never felt angsty. Neither Emily nor Lucas feel like they’ve been unfairly punished and, in fact, they both agree that they didn’t do enough to help Belinda and are happy to accept their punishment. It also never felt like Belinda was wallowing in self-pity (even though it would’ve been completely justified); she takes her time to deal with what happened before moving on. I really enjoyed the lighter tone of the book and appreciated that it wasn’t a dark and heavy book about the repercussions and consequences of what happened.
A Step Towards Falling has a strong focus on individuals with developmental disabilities. Most of the characters in the book are disabled and the book did a wonderful job at educating readers about these individuals and how they should be treated just like any other human being. It has a great message about not judging people by how they appear because who they really are might surprise you. The characters in the book are able to have healthy romantic relationships and friendships, and can even do some things better than typically developing individuals can. I appreciated being able to get to know the characters and how they react and behave, instead of just being thrown information about disabled people.
The book is written from the perspectives of Emily and Belinda. We get to see both of them grow and develop in different ways. Emily learns not to judge a book by its cover. Through her interactions with Lucas and Belinda, she finds herself questioning her first impressions of them. She learns not to apply stereotypes because each person is multifaceted and deserves to be treated equally. Belinda also learns to treat people with kindness and respect, but hers is a heartwarming story about forming friendships and relationships with others. She learns to stop being judgmental and bossy, and to consider the feelings of others.
I’ve never had a best friend before except for Nan and Mom of course. But I think this is what having a best friend feels like. Where you care about them being happy as much as you care about yourself being happy. Maybe even more.
My favourite aspect of this book were the relationships between the characters. The friendships between Emily, Lucas, Belinda and Belinda’s friend, Anthony, were so heartwarming to read about. They supported and encouraged each other, and it nearly made my heart burst from all the warm and fuzzies. I also loved the romantic relationships in the novel because they were honest and developed very naturally. The romance definitely takes a backseat to all of the other things happening in the book, and it felt very appropriate and properly handled. I enjoyed the characters individually, especially Lucas and Anthony, but I didn’t feel a strong connection to either Emily or Belinda. They did grow on me as the book progressed and I did like them a lot, but there were times when I felt a little bit indifferent about what was happening in their lives. (I did think Belinda’s obsession with Colin Firth and Pride and Prejudice was adorable though!)
My biggest issue with this book is the pacing. It was very slow at the beginning and I didn’t really know where the book was going until about the halfway point. It felt a little bit plotless, and while I enjoyed reading and learning more about disabled individuals and where they stand in society, I needed a little bit more plot. I started seeing a clear direction when I reached the second half of the book but the pace of the book didn’t pick up until I reached the last third of the novel. It was the dragging pace of the book that made me give it a 3.5/5 because I thought A Step Towards Falling was very well executed, and definitely worth the read!