“Last times and first times shouldn’t matter more than all the middle times, but somehow they do,” is Lucy’s observation as her family moves once again in Cynthia Lord’s newly released Half a Chance. My own curiosity about that phenomenon drew me into the story.
Lucy’s fatigue with moving and dread of going from the known in Massachusetts, starting over, and making a new place for herself in a New Hampshire community is compounded by her father's immediate leave for a long absence to do a photography shoot. I assumed that her emotional neglect because of her father’s ambition will be central to the story. It is not, though his distraction continues throughout the book. Neither are her mother’s efforts to make a new home in this place.
The story centers around her new friend Nate and his family who come to their summer lake house where they watch the loons and document any chicks for the Loon Preservation Committee. Soon it becomes apparent that his Grandma Lilah will probably be spending her last summer here as her mind plays tricks on her.
Lucy rejects adults’ idea that children think only about themselves. She says, “We care a lot about other people, but most time, we don’t have the power to change things for them.” Now she sees a way to help by using her own photography skills to document the loons and to get prize money for renting a boat big enough so Grandma Lilah can safely see the loons one more time.
Her father is to be a judge of a photography contest with an award big enough to make that happen. She explains part of her problem to her new friend Nate, “One bad part of having a dad who’s famous is sometimes it feels like I can’t have photography as my thing, just because he got there first.” The other part is whether she can legitimately enter since she is related to the judge.
My favorite piece of wisdom in the book comes from Grandma Lilah, even as she fades into dementia, “Don’t ever choose the people who don’t matter over the people who do.” One would think this is good advice for the tweens, primary readers of this book, and their peer pressure, but I think the advice holds for all of us.
From the time I began to read independently, the surest sign that I was into a good book was slowing my reading pace as I neared the end. In those days, I knew how many pages were in my book so I’d know when to reduce my speed. On a Kindle, I use the percentage. I began to slow at 90% and reduced my pace to a crawl at 95%. I didn’t want Lucy, Nate, and Grandma Lilah to go away with their last times and first times. Maybe they will return in another book with a redemption of Lucy’s preoccupied dad.