This book has one of the quirkiest and most off beat premises. It’s about a girl who faces two dilemmas: conquering her fear of learning how to drive and dealing with her mom, who happens to think she is Amelia Earhart. I absolutely loved it.
The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi
Published: April 22nd 2014 by Candlewick Press
Source: ARC from publisher; MP3 audiobook from library
Genre: young adult contemporary, audiobook
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | Library
Synopsis: Driver’s ed and a first crush should be what Alex Winchester is stressed out about in high school – and she is. But what’s really on her mind is her mother. Why is she dressing in Dad’s baggy khaki pants with a silk scarf around her neck? What is she planning when she pores over maps in the middle of the night? When did she stop being Mom and start being Amelia Earhart? Alex tries to keep her budding love life apart from the growing disaster at home as her mother sinks further into her delusions. But there are those nights, when everyone else is asleep, when it’s easier to confide in Amelia than it ever was to Mom. Now, as Amelia’s flight plans become more intense, Alex is increasingly worried that Amelia is planning her final flight – the flight from which she never returns. What could possibly be driving Mom’s delusions, and how far will they take her?
I haven’t read a young adult novel that better portrays the effect that mental illness can have on a family. The shame, fear, and added responsibility that Alex experiences as a result of her mother’s delusional disorder in addition to the everyday trials and tribulations of high school made for a moving novel.
Alex is such an honest narrator. She has moments of extreme selfishness, but also of compassion. She rises to the occasion and helps deal with her family’s crisis, but resents her mother even as she recognizes she is ill.
The complicated dynamic between Alex and her group of friends was refreshing, because I don’t often see such realistic friendships in young adult novels. When she starts dating Jim, a boy who doesn’t have the best reputation, her friends are concerned. They struggle with Alex spending time with him rather than them. But they also feel Alex pulling away because she isn’t honest about what is happening to her mom, and they don’t understand her distance.
The romance between Alex and Jim was very well done and felt so authentic. They meet accidentally at the beginning of the story, and both come to rely on one another. Their feelings for each other develop over time and they both help one another, so there’s more to it than pure physical attraction. It was one of the healthiest teenage relationships I’ve seen in young adult literature.
While I’ve always found Amelia Earhart to be an interesting historical figure (I did a memorable report on her in third grade and have even visited the museum in her hometown of Atchinson, Kansas) I know not every reader would be, and for those, the Earhart quotations at the beginning of each chapter might be overkill.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, especially the ending, which is hopeful, even though there is no easy recovery for Alex’s mom or resolution to Alex’s family’s trouble. I truly hope it finds a larger audience. It’s one of the most well-crafted young adult novels I’ve read in some time, both in conception and execution.
Recommended for fans of: Sara Zarr
Amanda at Cite Something: “With Alex, Cardi has created an honest and complicated character trying to navigate day-to-day high school life in the middle of some extraordinary circumstances in this powerful and moving look at mental illness and how it affects a family.
Kirkus: “The author creates nuanced characters and presents them with their flaws and strengths intact, including a character with a mental disorder who never loses her humanity or becomes a caricature. Readers seeking yet another teen problem novel with an unrealistically positive ending should look elsewhere. This novel delivers something far more rare: a well-written, first-person narrative about negotiating life’s curve balls that has a realistic ending.”