Book Review: When You Get the Chance

Tom Ryan & Robin Stevenson

Rating: 3 out of 5.

published: 5th May 2020
spoilers? no


Follow cousins on a road trip to Pride as they dive into family secrets and friendships in this contemporary YA novel — perfect for fans of David Levithan and Becky Albertalli.

As kids, Mark and his cousin Talia spent many happy summers together at the family cottage in Ontario, but a fight between their parents put an end to the annual event. Living on opposite coasts — Mark in Halifax and Talia in Victoria — they haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, Mark and Talia find themselves reunited at the cottage once again, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it.

Mark and Talia are both queer, but they soon realize that’s about all they have in common, other than the fact that they’d both prefer to be in Toronto. Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin, who’s barely been in touch since leaving to spend the summer working at a coffee shop in the Gay Village. Mark, on the other hand, is just looking for some fun, and Toronto Pride seems like the perfect place to find it.

When a series of complications throws everything up in the air, Mark and Talia – with Mark’s little sister Paige in tow – decide to hit the road for Toronto. With a bit of luck, and some help from a series of unexpected new friends, they might just make it to the big city and find what they’re looking for. That is, if they can figure out how to start seeing things through each other’s eyes.

Galley provided by publisher

YA contemporary lit is always hit or miss for me. Sometimes I’ll really like it, other times it reminds me how much older I am than the characters. This fell somewhere in between those two extremes.

In When You Get the Chance, we are introduced to Mark and Talia, two cousins who have not seen each other in a good few years after their parents fell out in some mysterious argument. After their grandfather dies, their grandmother requests that they all spend the summer at her cottage, sorting it out. But Mark wants to go to Toronto Pride, and Talia wants to see her ex (who may or may not be an ex after all), so together with Mark’s sister Paige in tow, they start on a roadtrip to Toronto.

Firstly, what I liked about the book. It’s very easily readable and the writing is good. Readable as in it took me maybe two hours to read the entire thing. It wasn’t one of those books where I was bored out of my damn mind reading it because of the writing. I also liked the whole mystery aspect surrounding why their parents fell out. And I loved Paige a lot. Unfortunately, the rest of the book left me somewhere between “meh” and vaguely irritated.

Both characters aren’t exactly ones I might love without reservation. Mark, for his part, is a bit shallow and self-centered. Meanwhile, Talia seems to have assumed the role of preachy, slightly holier-than-thou, older sibling. And while I could deal with Mark’s personality, it was a whole lot harder to deal with Talia. Part of that just seems to be because this book does have scenes which feel like those you can point to as if it’s a “learning objective”. You know the ones, they’re trying to teach you something. Only, for me, those don’t work. They just make me cringe because they sound sort of false. If you want to normalise something, I think what works better is treating it as a non-issue. Like, not having a character say they “don’t understand” being nonbinary just so you can have another character pull them up on it. For me, that only leads to me disliking them both. And all of those moments went Talia, so of course I ended up not liking her for it (sorry, Talia).

That, honestly, is the major reason I couldn’t like this book any more than I did. Literally just because it did something I personally don’t like books to do.

So feel perfectly free to just ignore this review and pick the book up anyway. In fact, do it whatever. Ignore me.

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