Middle School Monday: Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick (Book Review)
From the publisher:
Claire’s life is a joke . . . but she’s not laughing. While her friends seem to be leaping forward, she’s dancing in the same place. The mean girls at school are living up to their mean name, and there’s a boy, Ryder, who’s just as bad, if not worse. And at home, nobody’s really listening to her — if anything, they seem to be more in on the joke than she is.
Then into all of this (not-very-funny-to-Claire) comedy comes something intense and tragic — while her dad is talking to her at the kitchen table, he falls over with a medical emergency. Suddenly the joke has become very serious — and the only way Claire, her family, and her friends are going to get through it is if they can find a way to make it funny again.
Sonnenblick has written a story that is, in some ways, very similar to his previous Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. The main character is dealing with a devastating illness in the family (her father has a stroke), plays an instrument, and is in a bit of denial. But it is a very loose framework on which to hang a new story. It is also similar to all of his other novels in that he does an exceedingly good job developing his adolescent characters.
In Falling Over Sideways, Claire is a fully realized and richly detailed 8th grade girl. She is a dancer, a saxophone player, a sister, a daughter, a friend, an enemy, a victim. Sonnenblick has done an amazing job bringing Claire to life, although I’m not the least surprised given his track record. He shows us both her internal and external struggles as she deals with everything the world throws at the average 8th grade girl, including the struggle of having your period.
Claire’s relationships, especially those with her family, are well imagined. Her father, upon waking after his stroke, calls her ‘Piggie’ from a game they played when she was younger. He calls her brother by his name. This bothers Claire because she views her brother as being perfect, so of course her father would remember his name. She’s startled when confronted by her brother that he views it as just another sign of how much closer she is to their father than him, that he has a nickname for her. The novel is full of small details like these that add together to provide a detailed view of a young girl’s life.
I would highly recommend this novel for any collection serving a middle school audience.
Filed under: Middle School Monday
About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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