There are some challenges which are almost too arduous and hazardous to even attempt. I was confronted by one of these recently. The sobering result is below.
Sitting down to read and review Cynthia Lord’s third novel, Half a Chance, I was well aware that I had developed a strong personal bias in the author’s favor from having worked closely with her on various book related enterprises. In order to counterbalance this bias I resolved to be virulently negative and unfair toward the book. If I could strive to find fault where nothing objectionable was readily apparent, and to consider characters and language distasteful which I might have found charming and moving in any other circumstance, I would succeed in restoring objectivity. This laudable resolve to overcome my positive personal bias was itself overborne, however, by the excellence of the story, which persisted in stalwartly rebuffing what was a truly heroic effort to belittle it.
The story is set at the beginning of summer at a New Hampshire lake. The lead character, 11 year old Lucy, has just moved to a year round cottage there. Her father is a professional photographer and though Lucy does not share his restless need to move frequently, she does share his passion for photography. The story develops around Lucy’s connection to both photography, and to a family of neighbors which includes a boy her age, Nate, who becomes a close friend.
As is Lord’s custom, the story is very meticulously constructed and balanced. It contains, for example, one age appropriate moral dilemma, and not twelve, a handful, rather than an avalanche, of internal metaphors. It also sports one finely rendered stroke of foreshadowing, characters with clear and true voices, and a single difficult topic, the onset of dementia in a beloved Grandparent, which is thoughtfully explored. Lucy’s difficulty in choosing whether or not to submit a powerful photo of Nate’s grandmother to a contest, which he does not want used, is very deftly handled and just the right scale to resonate with young readers. Indeed, this warm and appealing story is easily as strong as the author’s two previous novels. Sigh!