“Just because you did one right thing, did it mean you were good?
“And if that was true, did doing one wrong thing mean you were bad?”
Twelve-year-old Nella Sabatini suddenly finds herself grappling with these and other hard questions in Tricia Springstubb’s “Every Single Second.”
Change is happening all around Nella, far too fast. Her Catholic school — the school she’s attended her entire life — is closing. Nella and her former “secret sister,” Angela, don’t talk to each other anymore. And that’s only the beginning. Nella is about to face a series of events and revelations that may shake her faith in everything she knows, loves, and believes in.
“Every Single Second” is a powerful novel for middle-schoolers, dealing with the kinds of issues that nearly all of them will have to face at some point in their lives. Springstubb writes beautifully about the plight of a girl who has to learn to face her own flaws as well as the flaws of the people around her.
Over the course of the story, Nella accidentally learns a secret that comes between her and her beloved father. She sees Angela’s big brother, Anthony, whom she adores, arrested for killing a young black man whom he mistakenly thought was endangering a neighbor. She sees her neighborhood erupt around her in the aftermath of the killing. And she sees what an abusive father and a broken family do to Angela — and has to repent of her own failures as a friend. The qualities that once bothered her in Angela, she learns to see as strong and even heroic.
Springstubb excels at showing how Nella finds values to cling to, even as her world shifts around her. She and her family find particular strength in their Catholic faith. Though she has friends outside of that faith and is used to dealing with their doubts, and though she sometimes has doubts and questions of her own, Nella holds on to her faith and takes comfort in it. She also learns that one can disagree with a person, or even dislike some of that person’s actions, and still be able to love him or her. And as she helps to care for her annoying little brothers and her sickly great-grandmother, she learns a few things about kindness and selflessness.
Nella’s understanding of racial tensions deepens as well. After the killing of D’Lon Andrews, Nella’s close-knit Italian-American community faces unfair judgment by many around them. But Nella is shocked and saddened to learn that the racial conflict in her area has far deeper and older roots than she knew, and that some of the people she loves are not guiltless.
Springstubb handles this issue with great sensitivity and care, depicting the heartbreaking fallout for D’Lon’s fiancee and young children as well as for Angela and Nella. Her words offer a tentative hope that racial reconciliation, though difficult and painful, is an achievable goal, and assurance that it is a worthwhile and important one. (Aside from the the book’s non-explicit references to violence, the only content issue is occasional mild profanity.)
By turns serious and whimsical, “Every Single Second” is a story that will engage young readers’ minds and hearts alike. It’s an excellent and important read.
Image copyright Balzer + Bray. Review copy obtained from Barnes and Noble.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.