Thursday, August 25, 2016

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Lucy Emery's family has moved yet again, this time to a lovely old lakeside house in New Hampshire.  And even though it won't be the first time she's been the "new girl," Lucy, 12, knows it can be difficult to make friends with kids who have known each other for a long time.

To make matter more difficult, Lucy's father, a well-known nature photographer, is off to Arizona immediately, leaving her and her mother to deal with the new house.  Just before he leaves, Lucy discovers her father is going to judge a kid's photography contest.  Lucy is an enthusiastic amateur photographer herself, and would like to take photos that make her dad say that he wished he had taken them.  So, Lucy decides to enter the contest - anonymously, of course - to see how she stacks up in her father's unbiased opinion.

Luckily, Lucy immediately meets next door neighbor Nate and his family, including his grandmother. Grandma Lilah, who always comes to the lake for the summer. Each year, she gets involved with the Loon Preservation Committee (LCP), monitoring how the loons at the lake are doing on a daily basis.  But now, she is too old to be out on the lake, and it appears that Grandma Lilah is also slipping into dementia.  So. Lucy finds herself in a kayak, paddling with Nate and his sister Emily to check on a loon nest across the lake.  And Nate, hearing about the photography contest, immediately gets involved, helping Lucy find some great shots she otherwise would not have know about.

As the summer goes by, Lucy to get attached to the loons and to Nate's large family, especially Grandma Lilah, who wants to cross the lake so badly to check on the loons herself.  Lucy decides to use the $500. contest prize to rent a pontoon for the day so that Grandma Lilah can go out on the lake and do the daily report for the LPC.  And while it appears that Grandma Lilah knows what is happening to her mind, grandson Nate refuses to acknowledge it at all.  So when Lucy takes a beautiful but very revealing photo of Grandma Lilah that captures the rawness of her confusion and the sadness she feels, Nate, seeing the truth about his grandmother, gets angry and refuses to speak to Lucy.

And Lucy faces some serious ethical questions when she decides to enter the contest under a false name, and to use the photo of Grandma Lilah for the contest, despite Nate's objections.  But, if Lucy wins, the photo could be published in a magazine, and Lucy never asked Nate's family, and especially Grandma Lilah, if that would be OK with them.

Will Lucy and Nate part as friends or enemies at summer's end?

Kids dealing with a grandparent's dementia is a tough topic, and not one you would expect them to be interested in.  Cynthia Lord makes it accessible to young readers in Half a Chance by distancing Grandma Lilah, making her part of Lucy's story, but not her family.  By doing this, Lucy can see the truth about Grandma Lilah more objectively, without the same level of emotional attachment that Nate feels, and perhaps help Nate accept the changes in his grandmother.

Lord also captures Lucy's conflicting feelings about her father.  It's clear she wishes he wasn't such an absentee dad, but she's also proud of his nature photography.  Some readers may think that Lucy is trying to compete with his talent, other will understand that she just wants some attention and acknowledgement from him that she is also talented.  That Lucy loves her dad goes without saying.

A word of warning for sensitive readers - the loon family consists of two adults and two chicks. However, in keeping with the theme of loss, one of the baby chicks is killed by an eagle.

Half a Chance is a quiet, thoughtful coming of age novel that addresses some serious issues and asks some very thoughtful questions for today's young readers to think about.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic Press

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