Sunday, February 12, 2017

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

The beginning of 8th grade is not going well for Claire.  Her two best friends in dance class have both been moved up to the high school group while Claire is left dancing with girls two to three years younger than her.  At school, her nasty science teacher puts her in a lab group with Ryder, a boy who seems to live to torment her, Regina who steals part of Claire's lunch each day, and the most popular mean girl who puts Claire down.  Claire's parents don't seem to get how bad she has it.  In fact, Claire tells her father that he might need to struggle a little more to really understand how tough things are.  But her words come back to bite her when her father has a stroke that leaves him with more struggles than Claire could have ever imagined or wanted.  

I just could not get wrapped up in this book and Claire's voice seemed inauthentic to me compared to the several hundred 8th graders I see each day.  I know that the story is supposed to be moving as Claire's family comes to grips with the changes in her dad as he recovers, but it felt very surface-y to me.  In fact, a lot of the book seemed to be skimming over the surface of the situation rather than delving deeply into what would really be happening.  I know there will be students who will love it because of the drama or because they can relate to the parental illness, but it's not one I see myself recommending a lot.  

A couple of other notes:  
1.  I see several people saying it is perfect for 7th or 8th grade and up but it read younger than that to me even though Claire is 8th grade.  The overall story and narrator felt more like a 6th to 7th grade story.
2.  This book is nominated for a countywide reading program in which I participate.  As something that might be somewhat "required" - a set list of books that we promote even though no one is required to read anything in particular - I think that some of the description of Claire's period will be an issue for both the boys and girls in the group.  It will certainly make group discussion difficult for middle schoolers.

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