“A Step Towards Falling” by Cammie McGovern

When Emily and Lucas witness Belinda, a disabled girl, being assaulted under the school bleachers at a football game, they froze. Neither of them knew why. The school punishes them. They have to volunteer with other people with disabilities.

“A Step Towards Falling” takes a difficult, often poorly discussed issue and unpacks it with compassion and empathy.

The story is told from the perspective of Emily and Belinda. The different perspectives show the reader how people are people no matter what their abilities are. Disabled people have personalities, likes and dislikes, passions, and talents. And like anyone else, disabled people deserve to have friendships and romantic partners and to find true love.

Even though Emily and Lucas made a terrible mistake by not standing up for Belinda, they aren’t portrayed as evil people. Lucas is a star player on the football team who has experienced a family tragedy. Emily is an activist who is horrified that her actions did not match with her beliefs. When the volunteering experience increases their compassion, the reader comes along for the ride.

How we treat people matters. “A Step Towards Falling” reminds us of this.

“Absolutely Almost” by Lisa Graff


This book hit me in the gut. The main character Augie, is completely average. In fact, most of the time he is below average.

The book explains his struggles relating to his parents’ high expectations. There are positive influences such as a babysitter, and a math teacher, who accept him for who he is without trying to push him to be someone else.

Lisa Graff really gets into Augie’s head, and helps the reader feel for his situation. You understand his perspective, and how aware he is that he isn’t living up to his parents’ hopes and dreams.

As a reader, I hoped that Augie would find out that he had some awesome talent, like guitar playing, or art, or robot-building. But this never happens. Instead, Graff lets Augie stay as he is… average.

As such, the reader is presented with a challenge. Can they accept Augie as he is?

Often, part of the charm of reading a book is relating to a super cool main character, who can totally take on the impossible and be the chosen one. You know. Luke use the force.

This book challenges that concept. Augie as a character demonstrated to me that everyone deserves kindness and that everyone is born with the same amount of worth as everyone else.

Beautiful message.


“The Boy’s Manual to being a Proper Jew” by Eli Glasman

This book deals with religion and sexuality in a painfully honest, nothing held back kind of way. Even though the narrative follows Yossi, gay Jewish boy living in Melbourne, and how he reconciles the restrictiveness of his religion with accepting his sexuality, this book is far from regional Australian fiction. “The Boy’s Manual…” leads to universal questions:

Why does religion often spread hate instead of love?

Why is God so concerned with who you love instead of what kind of person you are and how you treat other people? Homosexuality seems a rather pale sin in comparison with discrimination and exclusion.

Why are religious institutions so set on shaming people for genetic traits they cannot control?

How does practicing the religion in question deviate from the relevant religious texts?

If you deviate from your culture, will you still be supported by your friends and family? What is the cost of being yourself? Do the benefits outweigh these costs?

Needless to say, this book really made me think. In a good way.

As someone who attended a big gay United Church as a teenager, I have seen many facets to religion. I have seen a gay minister ordained and a lesbian couple have their son baptized. However, I also have seen a university Christian group refuse to answer publicly their stance on homosexuality. They insisted that the student contact them privately – no doubt because they weren’t accepting.

It’s funny, because religion creates a sort of paradox. By being part of a religion you are necessarily separating yourself from others, even if the goal of the religion is to treat others well. Can an religious institution ever be fully inclusive and still be classified as practicing that religion?

I’m not sure. But I know you don’t have to be Jewish to ask these questions.