They general idea is that a couple of oldish spinster sisters adopt a child from a local sort of orphanage, and all does not go well. Susan and Emily Topham are shy, caring, worried about what society thinks of them, and above all not ready for a trickster. Their cook (Cook, if you will) is a little more worldly-wise, but just barely. Enter Gwen.
She steals, she talks back, she lies, she is (when a little older) no better than she ought to be. She abuses their care and runs amok - and runs away. She's not even an orphan; her wily mother uses the situation to exact cash from the Topham sisters.
There were hundreds of children who, in the same circumstances, would have responded to their care, would have loved them and been grateful; but by mischance they had hit upon Gwen.That's Whipple's slightly half-hearted attempt to make sure we know Every Good Deed isn't supposed to be a universal cautionary tale. The classism of the book did make me a little uneasy, and I'm not sure that sentence saved things...
There are a few more ins and outs in the narrative than this, but not many. Although I enjoyed reading it, and Whipple is an expert at writing a very readable book, it did feel a lot like a short story which had got a bit long. There is only one arc of the narrative - subplots not welcome - and the moments of crisis feel like the climaxes of a short story, not multifaceted moments in a novella. Every Good Deed is only just over a hundred pages long, but I reckon it would have made more sense at, say, forty pages, in one of Whipple's short story collections. An enjoyable enough read, but if you're struggling to find a copy anywhere... well, don't feel too distraught about it.