In May, the Middle Grade @ Heart book club had the absolute delight of reading EVERY SHINY THING by Cordelia Jensen and our very own contributor, Laurie Morrison! EVERY SHINY THING is an engaging and emotional story told half in prose and half in verse from the perspectives of Lauren and Sierra, two very different girls who are brought together after they both experience the pain of being separated from a loved one.
In EVERY SHINY THING, one of the teachers, Mr. Ellis, teaches Sierra how to structure an essay. He tells her that she must choose a thesis statement and then take examples from the test to prove it. So for this review, I will start with a thesis statement: EVERY SHINY THING is a beautifully told, important novel that teaches valuable lessons about justice, friendship, and brokenness (as well as essay structure!)
EVERY SHINY THING raises important questions about what it means to fight for justice. Lauren is an empathic character from a wealthy family who has always been a helpful sister. When her brother moves to a boarding school for children with autism, she decides to direct her empathic instincts toward raising money for people less fortunate than herself. She begins by selling things she doesn’t need, but her Robin Hood plan spirals out of control when she starts to take things that don’t belong to her. Lauren brings Sierra into her schemes, declaring that they are “partners in justice,” rather than crime, which leads the reader to ask themselves: are good intentions enough to justify the things we say and do in the name of justice? For readers interested in the things kids can do to join the fight for justice and equality, the Simplicity-A-Thon hosted by Lauren’s school provides a welcome alternative to her misguided schemes.
EVERY SHINY THING also does a wonderful job at portraying middle grade friendships. The relationships in EVERY SHINY THING are at times heartwarming, at times troubled and complex, and always realistic. The emotional ups and downs of Lauren and Sierra’s friendship, measured in kaleidoscope-colored days, will keep readers of all ages engaged and hoping that our two protagonists find lucky green days. One of my favorite parts of the novel is the sleepover the two girls have together, giggling and asking a Magic 8 ball silly questions–it’s an experience that many readers will find relatable. And yet, their friendship is complicated both by Lauren’s schemes and Sierra’s need to take care of someone the way she used to take care of her mother, who was sent to prison. It is at times difficult to read about the way Sierra hides her true feelings in order to care for Lauren. In a heartbreaking moment, Sierra turns to her beloved kaleidoscope for help:
When I got home,
I looked into my kaleidoscope
and this time shook and shook
for green to
not for Mom,
(I did say this story was beautifully told, didn’t I?) Although EVERY SHINY THING covers difficult and painful subjects, readers will be left with a sense of hope for Lauren and Sierra’s friendship, and perhaps for some of their own relationships too, as they learn that sometimes relationships need to change in order to grow.
This leads to my last point: EVERY SHINY THING demonstrates the beautiful ways in which things that are broken can be put back together. Both Lauren and Sierra come from families that have been taken apart in some way. Lauren and her parents struggle to relate to each other without the presence of Lauren’s brother, Ryan, and Sierra is placed in foster care after her mother is imprisoned. Sierra’s foster mother, Anne, makes jewelry out of found objects and broken glass. She states, “Sometimes, the best thing we can do for anyone is to let them fall.” Relationships and families may permanently change, but readers will take comfort in the fact that “broken things can be repurposed to make something beautiful,” and that healing does not come from going right back to the way things were, but from creating something new with people we care about. I like to think that creating something new often starts with picking up a story like this one (and who can resist that shiny cover?!).
Mr. Ellis says you must restate your introduction in your conclusion, so I’ll say it again: EVERY SHINY THING is a wonderful and important story that will help young readers understand justice, friendship, and how to make something beautiful out of broken pieces.
The Middle Grade @ Heart book club pick for June is THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras! Stay tuned for more posts about this awesome book and join us for our Twitter chat on July 3!