A SOFT PLACE TO FALL | Kirkus Reviews


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Creighton was 5 in 1989 when his mom left to pursue a singing career. Now 14, he and his emotionally distant dad settle in Breton, British Columbia. Behind in school and socially disengaged, Creighton enrolls in a tiny alternative school for students whose burdens include family dysfunction, poverty, abuse, and trauma. Bolstering students’ self-esteem, validating them, and helping them explore their interests, Ms. Hayworth prioritizes emotional needs over a strict academic agenda or punitive discipline. Slowly and unevenly, each young person—even bully Carlos—begins to heal. Creighton befriends traumatized Schooner and bonds with two older teens: sexual-assault survivor Carin, whose single mom has cancer, and Ratchet, sheltered and employed by a caring farmer after being taken from his abusive parents. These relationships anchor Creighton and help strengthen his relationship with his dad. But when Ms. Hayworth goes on maternity leave and is replaced by an affectless, uncaring teacher, the students relapse and catastrophe looms. The narrative pacing is slow but purposeful. The memorable characters, all cued as White, are drawn with affection and are scarred, flawed, and fully human. Their needs are great, their expectations modest as they hunger for connection and security. As Ms. Hayworth says, “it’s hard to give to others what you haven’t received yourself.”


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