Imperfect Spiral

339p. Walker. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8027-3441-9; ebook $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8027-3442-6. LC 2012027329.
Gr 9 Up—Unwilling to work as a CIT for the summer before 10th grade, Danielle instead takes a babysitting job. Five-year-old Humphrey is a fantastic kid, and with him she can let go of the fears of being a leader that kept her from camp. The unlikely pair form a strong and genuine, if unconventional, friendship-something very different from the proximity-based friendships Danielle has with her peers. Everything comes to a sudden halt when Humphrey chases a football into the path of an oncoming car. His death weighs heavily on Danielle, who feels guilty for the accident and alone in her grief: How can she explain to anyone what the child meant to her? Meanwhile, the town is using the accident to push for safety improvements along the road and legislation against undocumented immigrants like the family in the car that struck the boy. Siblings, parents, and friends are all portrayed as real people struggling with their own issues, and Danielle finally begins to understand her complex relationships with the people around her. Contrasting her pain with the town's political agendas emphasizes that the rest of the world doesn't stop because her world did. The discussion of these real issues is deftly woven into the story, never overshadowing the protagonist's journey toward healing. A budding romance rounds out the plot. This book is sure to be a hit among teens seeking a substantive drama.—Brandy Danner, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA
Danielle's summer job babysitting five-year-old Humphrey is more fun than it is work. Both lonely in their own families, babysitter and "babysittee" (as Humphrey calls himself) quickly develop a closeness more akin to that between siblings. When Humphrey is killed in a hit-and-run accident -- on Danielle's watch -- and the driver is found to be an undocumented immigrant without a valid license, Danielle gets dragged into the center of fierce debates about public safety measures and illegal immigration. Danielle is disconcerted by the tumult and by the surprising intensity of her grief and guilt. And although her Washington, DC, suburb is buzzing about "The Tragedy," no one seems to want to talk about Humphrey himself. Supportive new friend Justin helps Danielle cope, but it seems even he has an agenda. Danielle's first-person, present-tense narration alternates with flashbacks of her days with Humphrey, emphasizing both the messiness of the accident's aftermath and the vividness of her happy memories. This story of love and loss is deepened by the protagonist's inspiring development from someone afraid of conflict on any scale into someone who -- acting as an advocate for the little boy who was killed -- can stand up for what she believes is right despite pressure from an entire community. katie bircher

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