Cynthia Lord’s young adult novel Half a Chance
(2014) is about a girl named Lucy, and the close relationship she develops with her neighbor Nate and his family. The story takes place over the course of a single summer in the New Hampshire town of North Conway. Having grown up in New Hampshire, Lord draws upon her knowledge of the state in evoking its woodlands and native fauna. Half a Chance
has been the recipient of several awards, including the 2014 Lupine Honor Award, American Library Association Notable Book Award, BookPage Top Pick in Children's Books (March 2014), and Parents' Choice Silver Medal. Lord's debut novel Rules
(2006) was a 2007 Newberry Honor book and winner of the Schneider Family Book Award.Half a Chance
follows Lucy, a twelve-year-old aspiring photographer. Lucy's aspirations are modeled on her father, who is a successful photographer. He and Lucy's mom move the family (including the dog, Ansel) to a small lakeside cottage just outside North Conway, New Hampshire. Lucy's father, soon to be off on another photographic assignment, will return just in time to serve as a judge for a local photo scavenger hunt. Lucy isn't thrilled he'll be gone so long but soon discovers that the neighbors have a son her age, Nate. Nate and his family, which includes his Grandma Lilah and older sister, Emily, are up visiting for the summer from New Jersey. Lucy and Nate soon become fast friends, and she no longer feels so alone.
Soon after they meet, Nate tells Lucy about a special island in the middle of the lake. The island is special because it is home to the area's endangered loons, a sleek aquatic bird with a haunting call. They nest on the island – which Nate knows all about because his Grandma Lilah is the leader of the local Loon Preservation Committee. She used to travel to the island regularly to track their numbers but is no longer healthy enough to go. Instead, she sends Nate and Emily, who go every day to check on the loons and count their numbers. Lucy goes with them. She brings her camera, ready to document everything she can of the beauty of the New Hampshire woods – and maybe take a prize-winning photograph. Her plan is to secretly enter and win the contest her father will be judging. That way she will be able to both prove her own photography skills and use the prize money to rent a boat that Grandma Lilah can use to get to the island to see the loons again in person.
Nate and Lucy spend a lot of time together, and Nate helps Lucy with her photos. One day, Lucy manages, by accident, to take an unexpectedly moving photo – one of Grandma Lilah that reveals her vulnerability and fragility. Grandma Lilah has Alzheimer’s, which causes her sometimes to get very confused. Lucy realizes that the photo is powerful, but when she shows it to Nate, it upsets him and he makes her promise not to enter it in the contest.
However, Lucy decides to enter the photo anyway. She trusts in its haunting, emotive quality. When the day of the contest finally arrives, Lucy is named runner-up – validating her talent, but angering Nate. Saddened by Nate's reaction, Lucy promises him and Grandma Lilah that she will only publish the photo with Grandma Lilah's consent. Grandma Lilah, as it turns out, loves the photo, seeing it as an opportunity to discuss her dementia. She explains that if she hides her condition, she won't be doing anyone any favors; everyone will have lost an opportunity to learn from her.
True to her original intention, Lucy uses her prize money to rent a pontoon boat so Grandma Lilah can return to the island of the loons. Lilah relishes her chance to see her beloved loons up close again, and the trip is an enormous success. Afterward, as summer draws to a close, Nate's family prepares to return home to New Jersey. Lucy is sad that her best friend is moving away, but they vow to one another to stay in touch and plan a visit in the autumn. The book ends with Lucy watching the last autumn loon fly south for the winter.
Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance
deals with several important topics in a realistic, plot-driven fashion. The topic of Alzheimer's is handled sensitively, but not sentimentally; Grandma Lilah's condition is important to the book's plot without feeling forced. Similarly, the novel emphasizes the importance of environmental conservation while making the topic seem intrinsic and natural to the setting and the characters who inhabit it.