Meeting Chance by Jennifer LavoiePublished by Bold Strokes Books
Blurb: Scarred physically and emotionally from a dog attack at age nine, Aaron Cassidy has spent the last seven years breaking out in a cold sweat at the mere sound of a bark in the distance. Days after he receives his driver’s license, he decides to challenge his bone-deep fear once and for all.
Volunteering at the Happy Endings Animal Foundation gives Aaron a new sense of purpose. Here he’ll face his fears and learn to love man’s best friend. When an abused pit bull with scars mirroring his own arrives at the shelter, Aaron cannot even be in the same room without lapsing into his familiar, paralyzing terror. But as he gets to know the wounded animal, and the two learn to trust again, Aaron finds that sometimes all you need is a little...Chance.
Review: Meeting Chance is a feel good story about a boy named Aaron who is determined to overcome his debilitating fear of dogs by volunteering at a local animal shelter. During his time there, he meets a dog recovering from severe abuse, and the two form a bond.
Aaron is a likable young man with a refreshingly positive outlook, despite the adversity life has thrown his way: he has a noticeable scar across his face from a childhood dog attack, his two best friends distanced themselves from him after he came out as gay, and his parents are divorced. While any one of these problems could have been played up as a source of extreme anxiety for Aaron, none of them were overdone. Yes, Aaron got upset and had his share of worries, like any typical teen would, but the anxiety felt realistic without being overly angsty. He seemed to take most things in stride and recover quickly.
I'll be honest. I love angsty reads. I kept waiting for something really bad to happen, especially towards the end of the book. My mind was reeling with possibilities. Would Aaron be attacked by another dog? Would he be beaten up by his homophobic ex-friend? Would there be an ugly confrontation between his parents when one of them started dating? Would Chance get into another dog fight? Would his new friend Finn turn out to be gay? Would an unfit family end up adopting Chance? etc., etc. But ultimately, I was okay with the low level of drama. In fact, I enjoyed seeing all the "little things" that Aaron had to deal with on a daily basis, like if/when/how to tell new people he meets that he's gay, and if/when/how to ask if they are too; or how to react to children (who have no filter and don't understand that they're being impolite) when they stare at or make comments about his disfigured face. There was some homophobia, but again, it wasn't extreme. It was hurtful, for sure, but was also addressed in a calm and reasonable way.
I loved how much Aaron and the dog Chance had in common. They'd both been attacked by other dogs and both had scars on their faces to show for it. They both had to deal with people making assumptions about them or rejecting them based on their appearance. They were both on a journey of healing and were able to comfort each other along the way. I would have liked more detail about their time together. Initially, the relationship between Aaron and Chance seemed to be the focus of the story, but eventually, it broadened into a story about Aaron and all the various relationships in his life. Chance wasn't as front and center as I had hoped he would be. Also, I felt Aaron got over his fear of dogs a little too quickly. I know the story spanned several months, but the lack of detail made it feel like it happened too easily.
I also loved the friendship that developed between Aaron and another teen he meets at the shelter. For once, the gay guy makes a friend who turns out to be just that: a friend. Some readers might be disappointed that this doesn't blossom into a romance, but I really liked their relationship the way it was. The fact that Aaron was gay did impact some of his relationships (due to homophobia), but overall the message was clear: Aaron was simply Aaron, whether people knew he was gay or not. The friends who could see this, remained in his life, and those who didn't, didn't.
"What the hell did Caleb want? He'd just be a pain in the ass and cause trouble, which made Aaron want to skip dinner altogether. Friendship triangles could be tricky. Throw in the fact that one triangle point was queer, and they ratcheted up to flat-out treacherous. Was it even worth it?"
Finally, I loved the positive manner in which the school's GSA was portrayed. Aaron was an active member of the GSA and was friendly with all the other members, even though none of them were his best friends. Many people have this notion that all gays will "click" and become instant friends. Yes, they supported one another, stood up for each other, and interacted in a friendly manner, but that doesn't necessarily translate into being close friends outside of school or wanting to date one another. I think the same can be said for many other types of clubs, too. The GSA was portrayed as though it were a perfectly natural part of the school's ecosystem, as it should be!
I hope Meeting Chance helps to bring awareness to the issues of animal abuse and abandonment. The devastatingly high number of animals who are put down every day is horrifying. According the U.S. Humane Society, 2.7 million cats and dogs are euthanized each year (about one every 11 seconds). Animal shelters like the one described in this book do amazing work and truly need all the support they can get. Until reading this book, I hadn't stopped to think that something as simple as donating old towels could help.
I would recommend this book for young adult readers, especially those in middle or early high school grades, or those who prefer a low level of angst.
Review by Madison