by Brenda Chapman
I don't often read young adult novels. But I'm so glad I read this one. I was willing to take a chance on Second Chances, no pun intended, because I so enjoyed Brenda Chapman's adult mystery, In Winter's Grip. It turns out, I was right. She knows how to write a novel that keeps you reading right to the end regardless of age.
The setting in geographical terms is cottage country, Cedar Lake in the Northumberland Hills, between Toronto and Ottawa. In time, it's 1971, and those of us who were anywhere from our early to late teens, even beyond, are pulled right back to those days. Remember? The flower power children had morphed into older shapes, still searching for peace and forgetfulness. The names in the music world we thrived on were Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Led Zeppelin. Cut-off shorts and peasant blouses were the norm. And Seventeen magazine still dictated to the young girls of the day. It was also the time of the Vietnam War.
This is the world of fifteen-year-old Darlene Findley, spending the summer, away from Ottawa, at the cottage and the convenience store owned by her mom. It's a turbulent world of a grief-stricken father whose short-temper hides the pain, a mother who Darlene fears may be searching for something new, and a rich cousin from Toronto, sent to the lake in hopes it will do her some good. What it does it add more torment to Darlene's life.
As the summer drags on and strangers move into a nearby cottage, Darlene gets pulled into secrets that could lead to someone's imprisonment at best, death at worst. Always filled with the need to know, a trait that works well with her writing talent, Darlene must come to grips with past and present relationships, the hidden lives within her house, and what she truly believes in.
A true coming of age story, Second Chances is infused with the textures of those days. Chapman's smooth writing keeps the story moving, even when nothing much seems to be happening. We feel Darlene's changing emotions, we see the beauty of the lake country, we can smell the pork roast in the Findley oven. That takes skill.
And it's not surprising, coming from the desk of Brenda Chapman.