Monday, September 19, 2016

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick, 2016

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It's not easy being Claire. (Really.)
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.

(272 pages)

I read Sonnenblick's Zen and the Art of Faking It several years ago, and really loved it. I never remembered to look him up and see if there were any other books he'd written, though. Imagine my surprise and delight when this little gem showed up in a package on my doorstep! It was exactly what I was in the mood for, too. My mother has been going through her own (much less overwhelming, but still frightening) heart problems lately, and reading about Claire's struggle to cope with her father's condition really helps put my emotions about my mom's into perspective.

Part of me, actually, wishes that Sonnenblick had put more of a focus on the rest of Claire's family, because the few glimpses we do get are very interesting as I try to decide which of them I would be. Realistically, I would likely fall into the role of Claire's brother Matthew - sacrificing my schoolwork and my time, losing out on things I loved in order to take care of my ailing parent. At least, I like to think that I would. Maybe I really would be like Claire, though, unable to look past the stroke symptoms and see my loving parent trapped inside a malfunctioning body. Whether I'd be Claire or Matthew, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be their mother - always faking a smile and trying to put a positive spin on things. There are days I barely remember to smile now, when everything is going relatively smoothly; no way would my reaction to catastrophe be to look on the bright side of everything.

I don't want to talk too much about what happens, because it will spoil the book for you, but I'll just say that this provides a very real and heart-wrenching portrait of what it's like to live with the aftermath of a medical tragedy. We see how the stroke itself is emotionally devastating for Claire, of course, but much more than that it's the day-to-day struggle of life after the stroke that takes it's toll over the long haul. Claire struggles with this, and with juggling her father's condition along with the regular dramas and worries of middle school. These are all, incidentally, very well done as well; her friends and classmates are realistic (if a tad difficult to tell apart at times), her struggles to succeed in dance and band are familiar to anyone who's ever been involved in extracurriculars, and her teachers are complex and nuanced.

If you think Falling Over Sideways looks good, then by all means pick up a copy and give it a go. I'm not going to say that everyone needs to read it, or that it's the most perfect book in the entire world, but I will say that it definitely hit all the right chords for me. If you decide to read Falling Over Sideways, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Disclaimer: I received an unsolicited ARC of this novel from Scholastic.

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