4 out of 4 stars
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In and Out of Step by Christine M. Knight is an emotional roller coaster about learning to adapt to changes both in the world and in oneself. From generational gaps to gender differences, Knight explores the joy and strife of living in modern Australia. Sexist men clash with strong, independent women; stubborn parents butt heads with equally stubborn children; and all must come together when tragedy strikes.
Cassie Sleight has just accepted a job on the English staff of a local high school in Keimera, Australia. With a troubled past she’d rather forget and dancing dreams she’s thrown aside, Cassie jumps at the chance to run from it all. Of course, nothing is ever that easy when it comes to change. Sexist attitudes from both students and male staff plague her new workplace, and her past is always lingering right over her shoulder. She makes friends in her new home, but she also makes enemies. As things yo-yo among the bad, the good, and the confusing, will Cassie be able to find balance in her new life? Or will she buckle under the pressure and run from her problems once again?
Sexism is never an easy subject to address, and that fact still rings true in this novel. I found it hard to read much of the grief Cassie has to experience; I often oscillated between cringing and fuming over the situation. However, that is part of what makes Knight’s writing so engaging. She does not just present workplace sexism and sexual harassment factually or gloss over it. Instead, readers can feel the tension between male and female characters.
Fortunately, Knight does not just highlight the differences and difficulties in male/female relationships. Most of the partnerships and friendships are complicated by good times and bad. One prominent example is the married couple George and Minna, the owners of the boarding house in which Cassie lives. They clearly have their differences and their marriage has strained, but they are still a loving couple and complement each other very well. The budding friendship between Cassie and Michael—George and Minna’s son—also blossoms into a well-balanced dynamic, but I can’t discuss that relationship too much without the risk of spoilers.
Unfortunately, much of the character development comes through exposition. Most characters, at one point or another, have a chunk of sentences which explains some of their backstory and personality, sometimes in the narration and sometimes in dialogue. Knight uses this technique fairly well and sparingly, and it is necessary to convey crucial information. Still, it is not my preferred method of characterization and can slow down the story.
I did not think this a flaw in the work but, due to the setting, the story heavily references Australia. Non-Australian readers, especially American readers, will have a lot of cultural references, social structures, geography, and terminology to research. I spent a bit of time looking into how the Australian education system works as I was entirely lost on that front. Yet rather than detract from my reading experience, this need to research enhanced it. I was forced to spend more time in the narrative and the setting in order to understand the story. I have read books about Australia before, but this is the first to have so completely immersed me in the country.
There are some sexual and sensual scenes in the novel. Knight does not go into much detail with these and, in my opinion, they are tastefully written. Still, some readers might want to avoid such depictions and I do not think that children should read this book as a result. Furthermore, one of the characters gets raped. Victims of sexual assault might be triggered by this scene and more sensitive readers will find it hard to read. This event does not overwhelm the text and it juxtaposes the scene preceding it perfectly; I just know that some readers will want to avoid it, and I think teenagers, in addition to children, should not read In and Out of Step because of that scene.
Overall, I give In and Out of Step by Christine M. Knight 4 out of 4 stars. The writing is lovely, the themes are handled tactfully, and the characters are well developed. However, I dislike the amount of characterization and backstory which occurs through exposition. That being said, the exposition does not cause enough problems to take away from the rating.
It’s also worth noting that the book clocks in at 480 pages and does not focus on plot. The plot is well thought out and riveting; it just isn’t the main focus. Some gripping moments of action and urgency also pop up, but the story is definitely more defined by its characters than its events. Anyone who likes character-driven novels will love this one and find it worth the time commitment. I did not notice any proofreading errors, which is always a bonus for me. So, if you like books with strong character development and ethical explorations and do not mind reading about touchy subjects, I highly recommend In and Out of Step.
In and Out of Step
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