Learning to Fall
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published September 6, 2023
About Learning to Fall
Twelve-year-old Daphne reconciles with her father, who left her stranded three years ago and learns forgiveness one fall at a time in this heartwarming debut by Sally Engelfried. For fans of The First Rule of Punk.
Daphne doesn’t want to be stuck in Oakland with her dad. She wants to get on the first plane to Prague, where her mom is shooting a movie. Armed with her grandparents’ phone number and strict instructions from her mom to call them if her dad starts drinking again, Daphne has no problem being cold to him. But there’s one thing Daphne can’t keep herself from joining her dad and her new friend Arlo at a weekly skate session. When her dad promises to teach her how to ollie and she lands the trick, Daphne starts to believe in him again. He starts to show up for her, and Daphne learns things are not as black and white with her dad as she used to think. The way Daphne’s dad tells it, skating is all about accepting failure and moving on. But can Daphne really let go of her dad’s past mistakes? Either way life is a lot like it’s all about getting back up after you fall.
I’ve been struggling a bit with reading lately, but you’d never know it if you watched me read this one. I read the entire story in a single sitting because I simply couldn’t stop.
Daphne has so many powerful experiences and is so easy to identify with. She quit skateboarding after an accident left her physically and emotionally bruised. Then, she has to move in with her dad, the person who got her interested in skating to begin with. She’s got a lot of doubts and bad feelings about him since he all but disappeared from her life for a few years. As she gets to know him again, she has to decide whether she can trust him. She also gains some new perspective on his disappearance, and sees her relationship with her mom in a new light, too.
This story expertly balances a young narrator and complex adult issues. Daphne’s dad is an alcoholic in recovery, and while he never drinks alcohol on-scene, he does get real with Daphne about his past struggles, how he feels in difficult moments, and his regrets. Daphne also realizes that her relationship with her mom, whom she idolizes, isn’t as simple as she once thought. Though it’s not the central point of the story, the narrative does an excellent job of showing how it feels to grapple with complex relationships and realize that people aren’t simply one thing or one way.
All in all, I loved this one both for its girl skater rep and its brave exploration of complex emotions and relationships. Give this one to fans of Gillian McDunn.
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
Daphne and her family are white. Her dad is an alcoholic in recovery. Daphne’s neighbors are Latino.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Daphne’s neighbor’s girlfriend and son move in with him.
Daphne recalls falling and getting hurt after some boys say cruel things to her. She hears a loud bang, and discovers that her dad threw something in the other room. He apologizes.
Daphne’s dad used to drink a lot of alcohol and talks frankly about mistakes he made while he was drinking, such as making promises he’d forget.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything but help support this blog. I received a free copy of LEARNING TO FALL in exchange for my honest review.
Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays
I’m sharing this post as a part of a weekly round-up of middle-grade posts called Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays. Check out other blogs posting about middle-grade books today on Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays at Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge.