Book Review: The Chance You Won’t Return, Annie Cardi (2014)

October 4th, 2014 11:59 am by Kelly Garbato

Interesting Concept, Unlikable Narrator

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: This review is of an ARC. Any mistakes are my own.)

It must have been like this for Mom – the longer you go without talking about something, the harder it is to start, until eventually you don’t know how to.

A junior at Oak Ridge High, Alex Winchester has tried to stay under the radar; until this year, it’s mostly worked. She’s failing driver’s ed., which is understandable given her phobia of driving – but since she’s too embarrassed to explain her fears to the adults in her life, they keep pushing her to get behind the wheel of a car. That is, until she drives the school’s Volvo right through the end zone, incurring the wrath of the football team and its newly rabid fans. As if this humiliation isn’t bad enough, her mom suffers a nervous breakdown during the meeting with her driving instructor Mr. Kane. The weird idiosyncrasies Alex has observed in her mother during the past few weeks fall into place: Janet Winchester is convinced that she’s Amelia Earhart.

A battery of tests and a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital are of little help; whatever Janet’s problem, it has no physical cause. And with insurance refusing to cover extended care, Alex and her family – father David, sister Katy, and brother Teddy – must care for Janet at home. Each member of the family deals with Janet’s illness in her own way: David is patient to a fault; Katy loses herself in her schoolwork; Teddy takes advantage of Mom/Earhart whenever possible; and Alex alternates between hostility, despair, and camaraderie. Before the illness, her relationship with her mom was rocky at best; now, she often stays up late at night, confiding in this new, not-quite-Mom. (Though the relationship isn’t as idyllic as the book’s synopsis would have you believe.)

As Alex delves into the life of Amelia Earhart, comparing Earhart’s timeline with her mother’s progressive delusions, she begins to worry that her mom might be planning Earhart’s final flight – only to disappear from their lives forever.

The Chance You Won’t Return has a solid, intriguing premise, but for whatever reason failed to really pull me in. It’s a quick and mostly engaging read, but also one that’s easily forgotten. The story’s biggest issue is its narrator, Alex, who is rather unlikable in that stereotypically selfish, bratty teenager kind of way. Everything is about her; while her mom struggles with a mental illness, Alex’s primary concern is keeping others from finding out about it, lest her social standing and reputation take a hit. She blows off her best friends and lies to her new boyfriend, driving everyone away in the process. Meanwhile, she’s often hostile to Janet, which is made worse by the childlike vulnerability of her Earhart persona. Granted, even David loses his cool once or twice (in scenes that are all to easy to empathize with), but this is usually the result of frustration and hopelessness; Alex just comes off as mean and spiteful.

That’s not to say that I can’t relate; I was that girl, too, so many years ago. But it doesn’t make for an enjoyable story.

I wonder if The Chance You Won’t Return might have been improved with multiple narrators. Personally, I’d like to hear from Janet herself.

On the positive side, I really liked the ending, which isn’t neat and tidy, but rather open-ended, with a tenuous sort of optimism. You won’t find any quick fixes here.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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