Half a Chance is told by Lucy, a tween-age girl who has just moved to a small town in New Hampshire. Having moved several times before, she is understandably worried about new and unfamiliar places and people–especially finding friends her own age. Lucy’s new home is situated on a lake and she almost immediately meets Nate next door. She is disappointed to find out he is only there for the summer at his grandmother’s cottage but enjoys spending time with him and his family.
Half a Chance has rocketed to the top of my Summer Reads list! Lucy and her story encompass so many things that are dear to my heart. Like Patricia Reilly Giff’s Pictures of Hollis Woods the title character often shows us how to see the people and things around us through the eyes of the visual arts–in this case photography. Lucy’s father is a famous photographer and she is at the beginning of finding herself in the art of photography as well, although she hasn’t yet shared this with her father. Photography is both a way of sharing herself with the world and of holding her feelings and her circumstances at arm’s length.
Before he leaves on his current expedition to Arizona Lucy discovers that he will be judging a photography contest for kids. Although she knows it’s a conflict of interest for her to enter she is determined to do so in order to get her father to notice her work…and her.
Nate ends up helping Lucy with her pictures for the contest at the same time she is invited to participate in the “Loon Patrol” with his family. Grandma Lilah loves the loons on the lake and has been a volunteer observer every summer to keep track of their numbers and habits. Lucy soon realizes that Grandma Lilah’s health is failing, she is falling gradually into dementia. She sees this clearly when she inadvertently captures a photograph of Lilah in one of those terrifying moments. Nate is angry when he sees the photo and forbids Lucy from using it. Agonizing over whether or not to use the photo. Lucy asks her father if he has ever had to weigh the costs and benefits of using a photo not everyone wanted him to use. He responds:
…weigh the effect the photo could have on that one person against the bigger story. Maybe the photo is art? Or news? Or it’s a photo that will change people’s minds about something important.
Important things are always complicated, and that’s what makes them hard. But it’s also what makes them matter…. At some point, you just have to choose. And then be brave enough to stand up to the people who think you made the wrong choice.
These words sum up so much about what it means to create and share art AND what it means to move forward in life.
In the end Half a Chance is about life and loss and the fact we must all live through these things if we are to truly live our lives. Lucy’s dilemmas are universal and easily accessible to young readers and old. Grandma Lilah’s courage in facing the scariest thing that has ever happened to her inspires Lucy, her family and the reader. When she reminds Lucy’s father:
Don’t ever choose the people who don’t matter over the ones who do.
she opens his eyes to new opportunities to love his daughter. And Lucy, in her efforts to make the world better in small but important ways for those around her are quietly hopeful as she says: “Half a chance is better than nothing.”
Sweet, sad and inspiring Half a Chance is a worthwhile read particularly for 6th -9th graders who will identify with Lucy’s longing, confusion and earnest efforts to make a difference–however small–to those she loves.
The Photography Contest Lucy’s father is to judge is a Scavenger Hunt for photos. My children (10 & 11yrs) decided to use the list for the scavenger hunt this summer and try to complete the Scavenger Hunt. In case you would like to do so also I have included the list below:
PHOTO SCAVENGER HUNT
1. Your Name
3. Three Feet
7. Holding On
10. Beyond Reach
11. Heading Home
12. At the Shore
14. Left Behind
16. A Closer look
19. On Its Own
20. A New Day
21. At the Crossroads
22. Out of Place
25. Now and Then