I have a list of authors who are automatic purchases no matter what. I become so confident in them that I stop needing to read reviews and/ or the book to make sure each new book is the right fit. This isn't a long list. Jordan Sonnenblick is on that list. He's also on a much shorter list of authors whose work I will not only automatically buy but also make sure I read. I always approach a new Sonnenblick book with the predisposition toward liking it and usually end up loving it. He has never disappointed nor does he here. In fact, with this book being his first in which the narrator is a girl, Falling Over Sideways is a delightful surprise.
Which is not to say there will be no tears. We fans know to expect much humor and many tears. Claire is our goofy, sarcastic, smart and talented, with a side of clueless and selfish, narrator. She's a dancer about to be left behind by her dancing bffs when they are placed in an advanced class and she is not. She's a saxophonist who's happy to play second chair except that the first chair saxophonist, Ryder takes sadistic pleasure in constantly, well, riding her about it. And then there's the pressure of living up to her perfect older brother, Matthew's, reputation. Her parents can drive her crazy but they're pretty good as parents go and she can always count on her father to jolly her out of a bad mood with his trademark humor.
All the drama and angst suddenly seem insignificant after her father suffers a stroke one Saturday morning. One moment, he and Claire are sitting at the breakfast table amiably ignoring each other, the next her father is acting bizarrely and unable to speak. Claire's quick thinking helps to save her father's life and possibly minimize the brain damage from the blood clot. But her father is a writer. Words are important to him. What will he do; what will he be if he loses his words permanently?
Just like Steven, in Sonnenblick's debut, Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, Claire keeps her family's emergency and her father's condition a secret as long as possible. Understandably, this poses some unique and sometimes hilarious problems. Sonnenblick's years as a middle school language arts teacher may have honed his ear for authentic middle school, tween/ teen dialogue and drama but his compassion and affection for middle school students shines in each of his books. Life lessons great and small are seamlessly woven into compelling storytelling. His characters could step off of the page and fit in in nearly any middle school.
Falling Over Sideways is highly recommended and a 2016 favorite of mine. Don't miss it!