Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release: April 22, 2014
When your mom thinks she's Amelia Earhart, navigating high school, first love, and family secrets is like flying solo without a map.The Chance You Won't Return flows like a real-life tale with realistic dialogue, a multi-faceted protagonist, and subtly descriptive writing that makes readers feel as if they are a part of the setting. Alex's story, from her driving struggles to her first romance, is tangibly relatable. And, despite its abnormalities, the family aspect is the most powerful and lifelike of all.
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?
At first, Alex's dynamic with her parents and siblings appears to be the one kind I cannot stand—the inexplicably strained one. The space between the protagonist and her parents threatens to snap with tension, and sibling frustrations bubble up. However, Cardi writes the family scenes in a way that does not blame all of the problems on stereotypical teenage irritability or angst; instead she simply portrays a family under the duress of multiple misfortunes. Even better, Alex's less-than-ideal relationship with her mother creates a fantastic contrast with the unexpected one that develops with Amelia.
Just as the summary says, Alex finds it easier to talk to Amelia than to her mother, and I loved watching their relationship develop. While everything else is falling apart, their connection is finally coming together, an occurrence that adds complications to the story. Although the rest of the family is determined to cure the delusions, Alex seems more accepting of them, throwing a twist into an otherwise direct goal. Readers will appreciate this fascinating and refreshing take on the mother's mental disorder—a viewpoint that does not only find faults, but also finds opportunities for growth.
This new-found bond emphasizes one constant threat—the chance that Alex's mother may leave one day and, just like Amelia Earhart, never return. Cardi chose the perfect person when selecting a figure for the mother's delusions because the mysteries surrounding the aviatrix's disappearance lend their suspense to The Chance You Won't Return. After watching Alex and Amelia grow closer and confide in each other, readers will want nothing less than to see the mother vanish.
As the mother-daughter relationship grows, readers will cheer for Alex in her family relationships as well as every other aspect of her life. Cardi's writing is so lifelike that not doing so would be nearly impossible; by the end of the novel, the characters and their conflicts become real. After connecting with the cast and falling into the vivid setting of The Chance You Won't Return, I can guarantee that I will return for more of Cardi's vibrant and emotional stories.