Danielle Snyder’s summer job as a babysitter takes a tragic turn when Humphrey, her five-year-old charge, runs into traffic to chase down his football. Immediately Danielle is caught up in the machinery of tragedy: police investigations, neighborhood squabbling, and—when the driver of the car that struck Humphrey turns out to be an undocumented alien—a politically charged immigration debate. Danielle’s thoughts are on Humphrey—her funny, fun, peculiar “Humpty” and the two months they spent together—but all around her, friends and strangers seem focused on everything and everyone else.
Imperfect Spiral is about a tragedy, a community’s search for someone or something to blame, and a teenage girl’s realization that sometimes the most, and the least, you can do is try to stop one bad thing from leading to another. It’s also a story of deep connection between two slightly oddball souls—Danielle and Humphrey—that transcends age and, in some ways, even death.
Ages 12 up
“. . . a heartfelt drama that touches on the themes of friendship, love, fear, and death. . . . Readers will find a relevant and inspiring story. . . .”
—ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE) Picks
“Levy’s unflinching look at pain is masterful. The narrative fluidly moves from lighter moments with Humphrey to the darkness of grief, avoiding false sentimentality.”
“The discussion of. . . real issues is deftly woven into the story, never overshadowing the protagonist’s journey toward healing. . . . This book is sure to be a hit among teens seeking a substantive drama.”
–School Library Journal
“. . . a story of love and loss deepened by the protagonist’s inspiring development from someone afraid of conflict into someone who can stand up for what she believes is right.”
–The Horn Book
“This young adult novel also confronts the issue of illegal immigration. Debbie Levy uses her writing to bring this problem to readers’ attention. By giving IMPERFECT SPIRAL even more meaning to its readers, this novel just keeps getting better.”
“Levy has created an incredibly nuanced relationship between [Danielle and Humphrey], showing that the most important relationships can form outside traditional boundaries like age groups and family ties. . . . It’s a story of love and loss that distinguishes itself from the flood of YA books tackling those topics by challenging how we define family and who you can count among your friends.”
“. . . exquisite. . . . Levy excels at the kind of detail-rich, nuanced characterization that brings to life wry, diffident Danielle, her babysitting charge, 5-year-old Humphrey, and her family and friends. . . . Levy skillfully handles a complex narrative that threads Danielle’s recollections of Humphrey through the events of the story. Danielle doesn’t want to forget him and neither will any reader of this tender, graceful book.”
“Readers will laugh and cry, but perhaps most importantly, they will think their way through important personal and social issues as they grieve along with Danielle.”
–Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books
Imperfect Spiral is mostly woven around themes concerning friendship, fear, courage, connection, and heartbreak. There’s also a thread relating to the topic of immigration—a topic that claims a special place in my heart and life, probably because I’m the daughter of a refugee whose family struggled to gain entry to the United States in the face of restrictive immigration rules.
The story in the book plays out at an undefined moment in time, and raises issues faced by undocumented (or “illegal”) immigrants in the United States and the communities in which they live. American policies and laws on illegal immigration are constantly shifting. On extraordinary occasions, the federal government has adopted legislation or regulations that gave undocumented immigrants a reprieve from the threat of deportation and prosecution.
For example, in 1986 President Ronald Reagan signed into law a measure that granted relief to agricultural workers and to immigrants who had been in the U.S. for at least five years. President Barack Obama in 2012 took action to help some young adults who had been brought to the U.S. as children. In 2013 and 2014, Congress has been considering a broader rewrite of the immigration laws that could normalize the status of many millions of undocumented immigrants, young and old.
Imperfect Spiral reflects the far more typical situation for undocumented immigrants, in which there is no special program to help them avoid deportation or become citizens.
To learn more about American immigration law and policies, you can visit the following websites:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
The website of this government agency, which oversees lawful immigration to the United States, has a wealth of information about the immigration system, from general descriptions of programs to specific instructions for immigrants who seek particular benefits.
Immigration Policy Center
Fact sheets and reports on various immigration topics are available on the website of the Immigration Policy Center, which is the research and policy arm of the American
Immigration Council, an organization that is favorable to generous immigration policies.
Migration Policy Institute
This independent think tank focuses on the movements of people all across the globe, including people who immigrate to the United States. Its website makes some of the group’s studies on immigration-related topics available for download.
The New York Times
The newspaper’s website has a collection of its articles on the subject of immigration. The link is here.
These aren’t the songs I listened to while writing Imperfect Spiral, because I can’t write and listen to music at the same time. But these are the songs that I want to listen to when I’m thinking about the characters in my book, and about their stories. Where possible, I’ve provided links where you can listen to them for free. I’ve also included iTunes links so you can purchase and download them.
“Hide It Away” by Hannah Winkler.
For Danielle. Or for Justin.
“Isn’t It Time” by The Babys.
For Danielle. And for Justin. For Danielle + Justin.
“Hurricane Sacha” by Alex Hoffman.
For Danielle and Humphrey crazy-dancing in the park.
“Daydreamer” by Adele.
The guy she’s singing about—that is who Humphrey would have grown up to be, I think.
I really like this video of her performance in Hollywood in 2008.