Cynthia Lord’s Half a Chance introduces Lucy, who’s just moved to a New Hampshire resort town with her parents, though her dad leaves the very next day for an extended photography project in Arizona.
In her dad’s absence, Lucy befriends the neighbor boy, Nate and Nate’s Grandma Lilah, learns to be a productive member of the Loon Conservation Patrol, and sets out to win the photography competition her dad will be judging when he returns.
But it turns out that friendship and photography are tricky neighbors. When Lucy snaps a picture that shows an uncomfortable truth about Grandma Lilah, she and Nate have to navigate together whose story the picture actually tells, and who actually has permission to tell that story. These questions are interesting, real questions for middle grade readers, and germane to my own life as a writer in a way that they might not be true for other readers, so I found them compelling.
Lord’s writing is beautiful and nuanced, her characters trimmed out in perfect little moments that show us precisely who they are, like the time Lucy wonders if she “should’ve used more words” in a text to Nate or the time Grandma Lilah insists she’s like Doris Day, not Marilyn Monroe.
But the ending lacks narrative pull Lord’s given the rest of the book. While Lucy’s observations about the youngest loon work beautifully with the story, her final text to Nate doesn’t work–in fact it was so disjointed that I felt certain there was a missing page in the book. Ultimately, the misplaced ending was the saddest and least satisfying element of an otherwise gorgeous novel, and I’m heartbroken that it’s the one we’re left with.