40 pages 1 hour read

Jordan Sonnenblick

Falling Over Sideways

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide


Falling Over Sideways (2016) is a popular middle-grade novel by Jordan Sonnenblick. The novel tells the story of 14-year-old Claire Goldsmith and the events that unfold during her eighth-grade year after her father has a stroke one morning. Claire must face dance school, bullies, her father’s rehabilitation, and a strange new home life, all while trying not to be, look, or feel “awkward” or “unlucky” in her new grade. The narrative further addresses issues of depression, loneliness, bullying, trauma, coming-of-age, fear, and hope. This study guide references the 2017 Scholastic Inc. paperback edition.


Plot Summary


Claire Goldsmith begins her story at the end: She’s a 14-year-old girl who’s dealing with the fact that her father can’t dance with her at the Dad’s Dance, a long-awaited rite-of-passage at her dance school, Dance Expressions. After the Prologue, Claire backtracks to the beginning, relating how she came to be in the position she’s in during the Prologue. The narrative links back to the Prologue, with the Epilogue fleshing out the Dad’s Dance scene.


Claire begins eighth grade with a feeling of trepidation. Not only does she have to live up to the perfect example her older brother Matthew set when he attended school, she must contend with starting her period, a zit on her nose, bullies, and many other new experiences. One of the most annoying changes for Claire is the fact that she did not move up to a higher level at dance school. Her friends Alanna and Katherine moved up to high-school levels. Claire feels like this is a mistake, and she dreads how much this will distance her from her friends.


Middle-school band is another topic of frustration for Claire. There, she must face Ryder, her one-time friend who is now her enemy. Ryder constantly bullies Claire. He’s first chair, and Claire is second, but he taunts her abilities while also calling her “Storky“ because of her long legs. Another nemesis at school is Regina Chavez, who calls Claire “Starbuck” because she’s white. Regina also constantly demands Claire’s Skittles, and Claire is too timid to say no. Lastly, Claire must face fashionista Leigh Monahan. Leigh terrorizes the other girls at school by dictating who is cool and who isn’t based on their appearance; and on the first day, Leigh decides that Claire is uncool.

As Claire deals with seemingly superficial school drama, her novelist father suddenly has a stroke one morning at breakfast. Claire is the only one around, and she must get her father medical attention before it’s too late. She manages to call the paramedics, and her father, after diagnosis and treatment, must recover both cognitive and motor skills. With this addition to Claire’s woes, she must navigate troubles on many different fronts.


Claire struggles with personal and public life. On the one hand, she’s glad that her father survived and is back home. On the other hand, she doesn’t know how to help her father, and she finds it strange that he is no longer the man she once knew. Claire reconnects with her father while simultaneously figuring out how to love herself more and embrace those around her who offer support. One day, Claire receives a bout of tough love from a dance instructor and, after taking the lesson to heart, begins a transformation. She determines to work harder, and she instills this determination into her father in an attempt to help him overcome depression (which she is also suffering from).


By the end of the narrative, at the Dad’s Dance, Claire has effectively strengthened her resolve and outlook on life. Moreover, she has modeled this life lesson so effectively for her father that he too improves. To Claire’s surprise, he dances with her during the final dance despite his previous declaration that he couldn’t do so. Claire and her father support each other, and their support mimics the love and support that many other people offered Claire during this tough time.