Lauren Collins (who narrates in prose) is a well-off seventh-grader in Philadelphia whose fourteen-year-old autistic brother Ryan has just been sent to the Piedmont Therapeutic Boarding School, where she's worried he'll be miserable. Sierra (who narrates in free verse) has been taken away from her alchoholic mom by CPS and placed with foster parents in Lauren's neighborhood.
Lauren wants to help families with autistic kids who don't have as much money as her own, so she recruits Sierra in a plan to steal things and then sell them to raise money.
Every Shiny Thing contains examples of:
- Bad Mood Retreat: Ryan's old occupational therapist, Jenna, helped him set up a calming corner in the basement with a fishtank and a perfectly tuned piano that took forever to get right. Lauren worries he'll have a hard time coping at Piedmont, where he won't have his own corner.
- Character Tics:
- Ryan rubs his T-shirt and flicks his fingers. When he was in seventh grade, he was at a horrible school called the Keller School that tried to suppress his movements and force him to make eye contact, but Lauren's parents assure her that Piedmont is more progressive.
- Lauren's previous best friend, Audrey Lee, sticks her chin out when she's mad.
- Cope by Creating: Carl took up gardening after the death of his eight-year-old daughter Amy from cancer. Watching and participating in the cycle of life makes him feel better about it.
- Commonality Connection: Attempted by Sierra's foster mother Anne, who tells her that her mother was an alcoholic and she grew up with her grandmother.
- Daddy Didn't Show: Sierra joins a support group for teens with alcoholic parents, where her classmate Emma Walker describes how her dad lied and said he was too sick to attend her school play, when really he was drunk.
- Dedication: "For Vermont College of Fine Arts - the place that brought us together and the people who've helped us grow."
- Empty Bedroom Grieving: Carl and Anne have kept Amy's room exactly the way she left it. No one is allowed in, making it the perfect place for Lauren and Sierra to hide their stolen goods.
- Five-Finger Discount: Lauren shoplifts shampoo, sparkly hair clips, and a ring.
- Homeschooled Kids: Ryan was homeschooled in eighth grade and possibly other years. His parents sent him away because they felt they'd reached the limit with his homeschooling, although Lauren thinks they could have hired tutors and suspects they just didn't want to deal with him anymore.
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Anne is black, and Carl is white. Anne tells Sierra how angry her now-dead parents were when she married a white man. It reminds Sierra of how her Nan used to get upset when her mom dated black men.
- One Phone Call: After Sierra's mom is arrested, she uses her one phone call to call her friend Lena and ask her for bail money and to keep Sierra until she can get out, but Lena doesn't have enough money to either post bail or take care of Sierra for very long.
- Taking the Heat: After the stolen goods are discovered in Amy's room, Sierra takes the blame because she's going to be leaving the area as soon as her mom is back on her feet, while Lauren is going to be stuck here for the rest of her childhood. Although the truth comes out soon enough.
- Tears of Joy: Lauren and her mom both cry when Ryan visits for Christmas.
- That Cloud Looks Like...: Sierra remembers cloud-watching with her mom on a beach. She saw a dragon, and her mom saw her favorite flower.
- Title Drop: From one of Sierra's chapters: "I wonder if no warning/or joke or anything/can distract her/from stealing/then selling/every shiny thing."