Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Junior Library Guild Selection
Book Page Top Picks in Children’s Books, March 2014
Kirkus, School Library Journal, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera’s lens, as her father has taught her—he’s a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet his high standards? When she discovers that he’s judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special—or only good enough.
As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn’t want to see: his grandmother’s memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives . . . including her own.
Cynthia Lord was awarded a Newbery Honor for her 2008 title Rules. I haven’t read Rules, but having seen what she can do with Half a Chance, it’s easy to see why Lord was given such a prestigious distinction. Indeed, Half a Chance is a gem of a book. Its lake setting becomes a character unto itself. And Lucy recognizes how the lake can feel different depending on one’s mood: “On a gray, calm day the lake becomes a mirror, reflecting other things… It matched how I felt. Upside down and not really myself.”
Lord’s gift for simultaneously capturing the voice of young Lucy while imparting her with wisdom is uncanny. Lucy is endearingly normal and, like any girl, has insecurities. I love this line which perfectly communicates the discomfort a shy girl feels trying to fit in with new people: “It’s horrible and itchy to stand in someone else’s living room when you don’t know everyone, but they all know each other.” Lucy has moved around a lot, so she’s searching for approval from her peers. But she also craves love and respect from her famous photographer father. She struggles to deal with his frequent travels and the difficulty of trying to talk to him while he’s on location: “How could I want to talk to him so much and then feel worse when I finally did?”
Half a Chance uses photography to frame Lucy’s summer adventures and demonstrate her creativity. Readers will likely want to try their own hand at taking pictures! Lucy and her new friend Nate have some genuinely thoughtful and moving conversations, sharing their wish to hold on to the happy moments even, or especially, when life is topsy-turvy: “It’s too bad you can’t make everything exactly the way you want and then freeze it to stay that way.”
Lucy eventually learns how to experience life rather than trying to capture it all on film. And she learns many valuable things about herself and others. Lord expertly weaves in themes like friendship, honesty, trust, jealousy and insecurity, aging and loss, and forgiveness. The tenuous nature of life is examined from several different angles. Kids will learn about life and loons. And with the book’s focus on nature and wildlife conservation, they will likely develop a greater awareness and appreciation for all forms of life.
Quotables are many and memorable, as are the takeaways to be gleaned from them:
Discernment: “When two things matter, how do you know which one matters more?”
Gratitude: “Good things matter, even when they don’t last forever.”
Integrity: “You can’t do the wrong thing, even for the right reasons.”
Perseverance: “Sometimes people are like shooting photos. It takes a bunch of misses before something good happens.”
Hope: “Sometimes you don’t get an answer, though. Sometimes ‘I hope so’ is the only answer you get.”
— Dawn Teresa
4.5 of 5 Hearts. Heartily Recommended!
Half a Chance would make a quality summer read for an introspective, creative type. There is enough thought and nuance that parents might enjoy reading along and discussing the philosophical moments with their child. With its slower-moving plot, Half a Chance is not for reluctant readers, but kids who appreciate stories like Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks or Deborah Wiles’ Each Little Bird That Sings will feel at home on the lake with Lucy of the Loons, and they’ll be richly rewarded for their time and effort!