In The Chance by Karen Kingsbury, teenagers Ellie Tucker and Nolan Cook have been best friends since grade school. He says he is going to marry her some day, but she just laughs. Tragedy strikes when Ellie’s parents separate because her mom has been unfaithful and her dad decides suddenly to move himself and Ellie from Savannah to San Diego. Ellie and Nolan decide to write letters to each other about their true feelings, bury the letters in a tackle box under the tree in the park that is their special place, and plan to meet together in exactly 11 years to unearth to contents. They assume they’ll be in touch in the meantime, but just in case, they’ll have this last chance to connect with each other.
As it happens, they do lose touch. Ellie’s letters don’t get to Nolan and he doesn’t have an address for her. In the years that follow, Nolan realizes his dream of playing NBA basketball and Ellie becomes a single mom, barely supporting herself and her daughter as a hair stylist, all thought of college and writing a novel long gone. Ellie has also lost her childhood faith. As their 11-year rendezvous approaches, Ellie assumes Nolan has forgotten her and wouldn’t be interested anyway since their lives are so different from one another’s now.
You probably have an idea where this plot will go (especially if you’ve ever read Kingsbury), but that’s not all bad. After all, in movies like An Affair to Remember, you know, or at least hope, it will end up as you think it’s going to, and you still enjoy the ride.
I hadn’t expected, though, the depth in the subplot with Ellie’s parents and the exploration of the hard work that is involved in forgiveness and taking the first steps toward restoration. Even though the ending is maybe a bit happily-ever-after-ish, none of the characters gets there easily. If you’ve ever known anyone with these kinds of breaches in relationships, this is how you’d wish it would end.
Some readers might object to Ellie’s mother’s adultery as a catalyst for the plot-line, but I’d just say this happens all too often, even in Christian circles, and the hard consequences are clearly spelled out. Though the author tells a bit more about it than I would personally care to know, there is nothing explicit.
If you’ve read The Bridge, also by Kingsbury, the two main characters from it make an appearance in this book, though it is not necessary to know their story to understand this one.
Though there are some unlikely and mildly problematic plot elements, overall I did really enjoy this book. I listened to the audiobook version, and the narrator was okay: I’ve heard better and worse.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)