I reviewed this from an eARC, and while I don’t normally highlight that at the top of a review, in this case I think it’s quite important, as this book still seems rather unfinished. I really loved Ms Springstubb’s Moonpenny Island, and I’m just not seeing quite the same tightness in this writing as I did there, so I’m assuming (hoping!) that further editing will polish this up to the level of the author’s previous gem. But I got what I got, and here is a review of that, please just bear in mind that caveat.
The passage of time threads through this realistic middle grade story of ‘what might have been’, and how a mere second can devastatingly divert a life. Italian-American Nella’s life is changing: her school is about to close and she’s uncertain how she’ll fit in with the mostly black kids in the neighborhood middle school she’ll probably go to. And her friendships are shifting: she has always been close to Angela – secret sisters close – but a new girl, Clem, exposes their differences and they drift apart.
The book moves between Now (the end of 7th grade) and Then (from kindergarten onwards), and is driven by a tragic shooting that exposes the neighborhood racial tensions. Family secrets that have been buried, and whose corrosive effects have spread wide, are finally brought to light. The author also alludes to the passing of time in brief interspersed chapters with the thoughts of a neighborhood statue, though personally I didn’t think this added much.
The strength of the novel is its central trio. The three girls are all delicately drawn, thoroughly authentic and believable, teetering on the border between childhood and young adulthood. Their relationships with each other, and with their family members, grow and change as they navigate that tricky crossing.
In the writing itself, I felt there was rather too much telling, not showing. Nella suddenly realizes many things and then expounds on what she’s realized, without letting the reader work that out for themselves. I also found the resolution a bit too neat for a novel that was realistically sprawling.
So what can I say? The book has now been published, so I’ll look at it before I pass a definitive opinion. I feel it’s likely to have been sharpened up considerably, and will have all that I’ve come to expect from this author of excellent realistic novels.