Book: Half a Chance
Author: Cynthia Lord
Age Range: 8-12
Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance is a book that will transport middle grade readers straight to summertime. When Lucy moves with her parents to a house on a New Hampshire lake she's a bit tired of starting over. And she is definitely over her father's extended travel - he is a well-known photographer who leaves on a long trip immediately following the move. But Lucy soon finds a friend in boy next door Nate (and a rival for Nate's attention in nearby neighbor Megan).
Through Nate's family, Lucy becomes interested in a pair of loons nesting on the lake. Then, with Nate's help, Lucy enters a photography contest for kids, for which her father is the primary judge. These threads intertwine with Lucy's involvement with Nate's grandmother, who is suffering from the early stages of dementia, and Lucy's evolving relationship with her own parents.
I love books set in that pre-teen timeframe, when boys and girls can still be friends, but other feelings are just barely beginning to make things complicated. Lord hits this dynamic perfectly. The reasons for Megan's enmity towards Lucy may go over the heads of younger readers, but 11 and 12 year-olds will understand.
I also liked the fact that nothing is completely tidy in the book. Lucy adores her father, and he's not a terrible parent, but it's clear to this adult reader, anyway, that he could do better. Lucy's mom gets shortchanged a bit, but she remains pretty understanding. (I might have liked to see a Lucy's relationship with her mother fleshed out a little more - but there is a lot going on in a relatively short book). Megan isn't nice to Lucy, but she's not some one-dimensional villain, either. And Nate's Grandma Lilah is delightfully complex.
And, as always, I just like Cynthia Lord's writing. Like this:
"Whenever we move, I take a picture as soon as we arrive. It always makes me feel a little braver, knowing that on some future day I can look back at that photo, taken when it was new and scary, and think, I made it. Like creating a memory in reverse." (Page 2)
"The ground under my feet felt squishy from last night's rain, like walking on foam. My ears rang with the quiet of tiny sounds: a faraway bird cawing, the hum and buzz of insects, and occasional red squirrel pipping or moving about through the leaves. And my own breath as I climbed." (Page 64)
This latter passage takes place during a hike that reminded me of New Hampshire hikes from my own childhood. There's a timeless quality to Half a Chance, despite the inclusion of text messages and digital cameras.
Half a Chance is likely to make kids want to become more serious about photography, and even includes some useful lessons about how to frame interesting subjects, and take pictures that tell a story. (The author's husband is, probably not coincidentally, a professional photographer.) This book may also inspire young readers to appreciate the outdoors a bit more (and loons in particular). It offers a moral conundrum or two, and some oh so gently put ideas about interacting with aging relatives. All in a lakeside summer setting so clear that the reader can smell the bug repellent, and see the light glistening off the water.
Half a Chance would pair perfectly with Karen Day's A Million Miles from Boston, and Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. And, of course, Lord's own Touch Blue. All of these books are about growing up a little bit, while living life in small-town New England. Half a Chance is well worth a look, and will be staying with me for quite a while. Highly recommended!
Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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