Cammie McGovern

A Step Toward Falling

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A Step Toward Falling Summary

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A Step Toward Falling (2015), Cammie McGovern’s contemporary novel for young adults, follows a young girl undertaking community service for failing to help a disabled girl who was sexually assaulted. The book was met by mixed reviews upon publication, as not all critics agree that McGovern handled the subject matter sensitively. Others, however, suggest that one main character has a great redemption arc and that the book ends positively. This is McGovern’s second contemporary novel for a teenage audience. She has won awards for short fiction, and her articles have been published in leading magazines.

There are three main characters; two of them narrate A Step Toward Falling. Emily, a typical teenage girl who prides herself on usually doing the right thing, is an activist who speaks up for herself and people who can’t defend themselves. Sweet, innocent, and compassionate, Belinda suffers from a developmental disability.

Lucas, a teenage boy who goes to the same school as Emily, is a popular football player. Girls love him. Kind and insecure about many things, he doesn’t want to be known as a jock.

On game night, everyone is at the school to watch their football team beat its rivals. Belinda, who feels insecure in busy crowds, hangs out near the back of the bleachers. Lucas sees her there, but he doesn’t notice anything suspicious, and he keeps moving toward the football fields. Once he is out of sight, however, other boys saunter out from the locker rooms and push Belinda against the fence, threatening to rape her. She is terrified.

Meanwhile, Emily is watching the game. She looks over and sees what is happening to Belinda. She tries to alert a teacher, but he dismisses her, telling her to just to watch the game. Emily thinks she should do something, but she panics and freezes completely. Eventually, Belinda pushes the boys away, saving herself. Police cars show up at the game, but Emily doesn’t think much of it at the time.

A few weeks go by, and no one sees Belinda at school. She is a popular girl and students are worried about her. Emily keeps replaying what happened over in her mind, and she can’t help feeling guilty. She doesn’t talk about it to anyone, though, because she is worried something bad happened to Belinda and that she will be blamed for doing nothing.

Emily’s fears are confirmed when the guidance counselor approaches her. She tells Emily that Belinda was attacked and that Belinda saw Emily standing there, doing nothing. Ever since the attack, Belinda has stayed home watching reruns of classic movies, because she is too afraid to go outside. Lucas is identified as another witness.

Blaming them for making a vulnerable girl fend for herself, the school suggests that Emily and Lucas volunteer at the disabled community center to learn more about disabilities. Emily and Lucas are reluctant at first because they don’t see why disabled people will want to talk to them, but they go anyway.

When they arrive at the center, Lucas and Emily don’t speak. Lucas secretly blames Emily, because she saw it happen. Emily blames Lucas because he surely knows what his football friends are like. The school doesn’t care if they speak to each other or not—they’re at the center to learn to respect disabled people, not make friends with each other.

Meanwhile, Lucas and Emily meet Anthony, a boy at the center. He is smitten with Belinda but worries she won’t like him back. Emily learns more about Belinda, and how she loves Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Belinda is very romantic at heart, and Emily hopes she will fall in love with Anthony.

The center provides Lucas and Emily the chance to learn more about the struggles disabled people endure, and how so many people fail to give them a fair chance. This reality angers them both, and they realize there is so much more they can do to look out for vulnerable people. The experience teaches them both that disabled people often have huge hearts and that they are more compassionate than many. Lucas and Emily learn as much from the disabled people as anyone at the center learns from them.

By the end of the novel, Emily realizes she has a major flaw—she’s insensitive. Although she is an activist who stands up for people, she often doesn’t realize how her words and actions affect others. She is also prone to making assumptions without checking her facts. Emily learns to be more careful with how she treats everyone.

Lucas learns that our problems are universal, whether we are disabled or not. He learns how to be more compassionate and understanding, and how to look at his world through a different lens. By the time their community service is over, Lucas and Emily have made a whole host of new friends, and it won’t be the end of their time volunteering.