Title: Falling Over Sideways
Author: Jordan Sonnenblick
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 272
Claire’s life is full of the usual teenage woes- awkwardness, embarrassment, feeling alienated from her friends. Everybody in her dance group is placed in a higher-tier class except for her, and she’s stuck dancing with the babies and scared of losing her friends. She’s also being picked on by her former friend Ryder, who always finds a way to have a go at her weaknesses. Overall, her life is sucky in that weird in-between way of adolescence- not a little kid, not quite an adult- but things suddenly take a turn for the worse when her dad has a stroke in front of her and is left utterly changed. Claire’s dad used to be a writer, but now he’s completely dependent on his family and can barely speak.
Jordan Sonnenblick uses his signature blend of snarky humor and pathos to portray a truly difficult period in a girl’s life. Claire is a pretty average teenager with lots of issues that people her age can relate to. She’s also by no means perfect and the book does a good job of showing her mix of compassion, frustration, and exasperation with a father who’s nothing like the one she remembers and a ‘perfect’ brother who’s better than her at almost everything. Even though Claire’s voice sounded a lot like Jordan Sonnenblick’s other teen (male) characters I thought he did a pretty good job of writing from a female perspective. The subplot with Ryder was kind of annoying- he was such a jerk to her but you knew right off the bat that they had feelings for each other and it was a love/hate thing.
However, the way their relationship ends up surprised me. Sure, it’s your usual ‘he gives her a hard time but he really likes her’ trope that’s not exactly beneficial to girls and women but it ended up not being better-handled than I was expecting. The dynamics in Claire’s family felt true-to-life and her parents and brother felt like real people, each with their share of flaws and strengths. I was disappointed that none of the characters from the author’s other books showed up (like when Steven from Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie turned out to be friends with Alex from Notes From the Midnight Driver.)
I think it would have been cool if we had seen Alex, Steven, or Steven’s younger brother Jeffrey again. Claire’s classmates are just okay as characters, and the boy in her school who has Asperger’s Syndrome comes off as stereotypical- but the storyline is sweet and positive, even as it deals with a tough subject. I recommend this to anyone who likes this authors books or wants a YA contemporary that’s not heavy but isn’t totally without substance either.