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 her.
With an engaging protagonist, a fast-moving story, important themes subtly conveyed, and touches of humor, this is a richly layered story that will have wide appeal. — Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Nella’s growing awareness of endings and beginnings, the meaning of friendship, and the power of choices combine to create an unsettling, compelling, and heartwarming tale. — Publishers Weekly, starred review
What drew you to this story?
Every Single Second didn’t draw me in—it yanked me! To be honest, I was afraid of this story. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write it. But it got hold of me and refused to let go.
I first began thinking about it when a local young woman (whose family I slightly knew) threatened to commit a crime. Even though she had problems that left her too frail and confused to hurt anyone, she was arrested and jailed. On-line, she became the object of scorn and mockery from people who, of course, knew nothing about her. Her family was already reeling from what had happened, and this casual cruelty devastated them all the more. I couldn’t stop thinking about how easily we can judge others, without any real understanding of them.
The other event was a shooting much like the central event of Every Single Second, which I read about in the news. An African-American man who’d been in a car accident knocked on a door late at night and the woman inside called 9-1-1. Police officers showed up, and within seconds the injured, unarmed man was dead. Photos of him and the white officer who shot him were printed side by side. The victim looked heart-breakingly young and earnest. The officer was also young, and his expression was a blur of confusion and fear. Their faces riveted me. Two unconnected lives had crossed; one moment had changed everything. I kept thinking about who the officer was, wondering how he became the person who pulled that trigger. Again, I wanted to know more, to look deeper and try, if I could, to understand.
As I worked, national events, including the unthinkable death of Tamir Rice here in Cleveland, made the writing harder but also more urgent.
During my middle and high school years, three different accidental shootings affected my classmates, one resulting in death. Unfortunately, other young people have had similar experiences. Even so, I can’t think of one book I’ve ever encountered on the subject. What are some of the challenges you faced in writing about such a difficult topic?
Writing for young readers is always an enormous privilege, but I especially felt that with this book. I so badly wanted to get this complicated story right! Stories, like our lives, don’t march in straight lines. They rush forward, slip backward, skitter sideways. We think in terms of beginnings and endings, but I wanted to show that every story starts long before “chapter one” and continues way beyond “the end”. I wrote from the point of view of Nella, a white girl who’s close to the shooter. She’s been shaped by her community, as we all are. For me, the book’s biggest challenge was to be true to who Nella is, while showing her begin to question what she’s been taught. It’s scary to reject things we’ve always believed. It’s risky to trust our own hearts, and form a new, untried view of the world. Every Single Second deals with class and racial divides, and questions of what it means to be “good” or “bad”. These are the kinds of issues middle graders get really passionate about, and my deepest, fondest hope is that the book will inspire lots of questions and discussions. (I’m very glad that HarperCollins will publish a reading and discussion guide teachers and book groups can use!)
When writing about difficult things, do you intentionally bring in moments to ease the tension of the storyline? If yes, how so?
I was brought up to believe we need humor in bad times even more than in good. I’m a natural optimist, and love to laugh (one more reason I adore being around kids). While I was working on this book, the venerable Jeptha A. Stone miraculously appeared. He’s a monument who lives (in a manner of speaking) in the cemetery where Nella’s father is the groundskeeper, and he serves as a sort of Greek chorus. Jeptha is a pompous old guy with a heart of (what else?) stone, and he gets his own story arc. One of the book’s themes is that we all have powerful voices, if only we have the courage to use them, and one of my very favorite moments is when Jeptha speaks. Or does he?
Maybe the biggest challenge of writing middle grade is respecting the huge issues kids face without going too far into the darkness. Let there always be light and laughter!
How is Every Single Second different from your other books? How is it similar?
I’ve never dealt so directly with violence. Some people might also say I’ve never written about anything so topical, though really, unfortunately, the book’s issues have been with us for a very, very long time. Something I was aware of the whole time I was writing was that I didn’t want to hold back. With this book, I pinned my meaty heart to my sleeve.
But Every Single Second does share things with my earlier books. Nella’s neighborhood is crucial to the story. A sense of place is always deeply important to me (What Happened on Fox Street and Moonpenny Island are titled for their settings!). My characters often come from working class families, and economic class is always an issue, even when it just hovers in the background. Also, I can’t seem to stop writing about sisters or father-daughter relationships!
What are you working on now?
I just finished writing the fourth book in my series for younger middle grade readers. Cody and the Fountain of Happiness came out last spring, and Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe published this April. These are such fun books to write, and Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations are genius!
Now I’m tiptoeing around a middle grade novel set in a fictional country more than a hundred years ago. I’d really love to write fantasy, but I’m just too literal a person. I’m hoping that escaping the present and wandering the past will be the next best thing.
Tricia is offering one reader here the opportunity to win signed a copy of Every Single Second. Simply leave a comment below by Friday, June 17. A winner will be randomly selected. US residents only, please.
Tricia is the author of many books for children, including the award winning middle grade novels What Happened on Fox Street, its well-loved sequel, Mo Wren Lost and Found, and Moonpenny Island. Tricia has worked as a Head Start teacher and a children’s librarian. Besides writing and, of course, reading, she loves doing school and library visits. Mother of three grown daughters (and a brand new Nana!), she lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. You can contact her at www.triciaspringstubb.com.