I’m on a mission to find books that will inspire deep thinking and spark meaningful conversations among my sixth graders this coming school year. Our news cycle, it seems, has become a relentless loop of depressing stories about distrust, hate, and violence. Kids watch all of this play out day after day, and come to our classrooms with reactions and concerns about the world they live in. Thoughtfully written books allow for a safe way to explore issues, and Tricia Springstubb’s Every Single Second is a wonderful example of just such a book.
Here’s the jacket copy:
Twelve-year-old Nella Sabatini’s life is changing too soon, too fast. Her best friend, Clem, doesn’t seem concerned; she’s busy figuring out the best way to spend the “leap second”—an extra second about to be added to the world’s official clock. The only person who might understand how Nella feels is Angela, but the two of them have gone from being “secret sisters” to not talking at all.
Then Angela’s idolized big brother makes a terrible, fatal mistake, one that tears apart their tight-knit community and plunges his family into a whirlwind of harsh publicity and judgment. In the midst of this controversy, Nella is faced with a series of startling revelations about her parents, friends, and neighborhood. As Angela’s situation becomes dangerous, Nella must choose whether to stand by or stand up. Her heart tries to tell her what to do, but can you always trust your heart? The clock ticks down, and in that extra second, past and present merge—the future will be up to Nella.
There is so much to love about Every Single Second, but I will begin with its craft. Springstubb has written this book in alternating chapters of “then” and “now”, with pithy little reaction chapters from the viewpoint of a statue that has stood faithfully in the local cemetery for many years, noticing more than one would think. Even as the story unfolds in the “now” chapters, the reader comes to understand the layers of character and action as they came to be developed in the past, the “then” chapters. At first, I thought this might be confusing and distracting for my sixth graders, but I quickly came to see how this craft move gave the story depth, and made the characters and their actions/reactions much more interesting.
Nella, her friends and her classmates embody all the issues middle schoolers face – identity and friendship issues, and family loyalties and frustrations. Nella herself is finely imagined, she struggles with staying true to her better self in the face of peer pressure, and with sorting through family tragedy in a way that honors her parents and the values they stand for. Most of all, she struggles with trying to discern true story from gossip and prejudice. Her favorite teacher, Sister Rosa, tells Nella that, “…sometimes we need to overrule our hearts. We need to be brave. We need to be kind because we should, not because it’s easy.” And this is the essence of Nella’s journey through the story – how to be brave and kind when it’s not easy?
I also loved that Nella’s small town serves as a microcosm of our society, and the events of this story replicate some of the serious issues we face: racial tension, economic inequality, prejudice, the disparity (and continuing segregation) of education and public vs. private schools, post traumatic stress disorder in our returning veterans – all of these are present in this story. Yet, the way in which each of these are dealt with does not feel preachy or forced.
Every Single Second will make for a wonderful book club book, and I can imagine many thoughtful discussions emerging from my sixth graders reading this book together.
Back in June, the author Caroline Starr Rose posted an interview with Tricia Springstubb, which is a must read: http://carolinestarrrose.com/every-single-second/