Claire is not having a good day. It is the Dad’s Dance at her dance school. It occurs when the students turn 14 and she and her dad have been looking forward to this for forever. Unfortunately she is watching all the other girls dance with their dads because hers can’t dance, not since his stroke almost a year ago.
Falling Over Sideways flashes back to the events leading up to her father’s stroke and takes them forward to the present. The night before his stroke, Claire and her dad had an argument, Claire being the drama queen and her father making light of the situation. The next morning, when just the two of them were at breakfast, her dad stood up and, all of the sudden, listed to one side, mumbling gibberish. Panicking, she called her mother who, true to form, had her cell phone turned off. Next was 911. She rode with her dad to the hospital, all the while feeling that in some way, she caused the stroke.
As Jordan Sonnenblick has done with After Ever After and Notes From the Midnight Driver, two of my favorite Sonnenblick books, he uses humor to tell what is generally serious stories. Claire goes through so many stages: guilt at possibly being the cause of the stroke, denial, fear of the future, shame. She’s afraid to tell her best friends. She’s afraid to be with her father who is not nearly the man he used to be. All the while, Claire must deal with the trials and tribulations of middle school life, which we all know can be traumatic. Claire’s feelings and actions are contrasted with her mother’s and brother’s actions and emotions, since we know everyone handles trauma differently.
We tend to think that strokes only occur in older people, but Falling Over Sideways was inspired, in part, by a teenage friend of Sonnenblick’s son whose father had a stroke. Much of Claire’s actions and emotions are based on this.
Sonnenblick gets his point across without beating you over the head. Falling Over Sideways is a great read.