2012 HIGHLIGHTED REVIEW: SECOND CHANCES BY CHARITY NORMAN

Second Chances
Author: Charity Norman
Allen & Unwin RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

After the FallSecond Chances is the second richly plotted, emotional read from talented writer Charity Norman (Freeing Grace). It’s one of those books you sit down to read and find yourself glued in position for hours at a time, unable to tear yourself away.

A five-year-old boy is airlifted from an isolated farmhouse in New Zealand in the dead of night. He has severe internal injuries and may not last the night. His distraught mother, Martha, says it’s a horrible accident and Finn fell from a balcony while sleepwalking. But she knows that’s not how it happened. And she’s not sure she can bring herself to tell anyone the truth.

Twelve months earlier, Martha and her family moved to the farm from the United Kingdom. Her husband, Kit, is a “victim” of the global financial crisis; unable to find a job in advertising, his drinking has become a significant problem. Unable to afford Martha’s daughter Sacha’s school fees, the “hair-raising bills” or the mortgage, they convince themselves the move will help the family start again, maybe even reawaken Kit’s long-dormant painting career. But their decision has its critics. Sacha, 16, is not impressed; nor is Martha’s sister, Lou. Martha’s father accepts his daughter’s decision, but urges her not to go if “you’re running from something”. And Sacha’s surprisingly insightful boyfriend tells Martha that “Sacha will be paying for the rest of the family’s happiness”.

Now, 12 months after emigrating, Martha is faced with decisions she never dreamed she’d have to make, decisions with potentially devastating consequences. Her and Kit’s dream new life has become a nightmare … and Kit doesn’t know the half of it. Martha is torn between her loyalty to her family and her need to protect them. Her son may die; she knows who is responsible. But what would happen if she told? And can her life ever return to how it was when she first arrived in the rural paradise that she now calls home?

Beautifully written, this novel veers between the recent past and the present, all from Martha’s perspective. As Martha sits by her son’s bedside, she recalls the events leading to this moment. As the story unfolds, the reader is led through the complicated course of events that prompted Martha’s actions; it becomes clear that Martha, far away from family and friends, has a problem too big for one person to handle (for reasons that become apparent, she refrains from sharing everything with Kit). This gradual unfolding makes for a rich, complex plot that is dramatic and completely absorbing.

I found that I could identify with Martha on a number of counts. I have not emigrated, but I may as well have – I moved from Sydney to Perth 10 years ago with my two sons (long story) and at times I still feel the pain of distance. I know how it feels to leave everything you know behind, putting on the “it’s all a big adventure” front; I know how it feels when I have a problem and I just wish my mum was closer so she could give me a hug. My sons are now teenagers and I know all too well the heartache this age can bring. And I know about the mother instinct to protect your own. So, I could understand Martha’s motivations and her dilemma. Who or what does she protect? Would have done anything differently? Charity Norman has done a great job developing Martha’s character and what I liked is that Martha had to feel the repercussions of her choices – there was no “poor Martha, she’s had a hard time” feeling; instead, the outcome felt real.

The other characters were just as well developed, as were the contemporary themes skilfully woven through the story. Issues such as blended families, drug and alcohol abuse, job loss, depression, financial pressures, parenting, working and moving – most readers can relate to some or all of these issues; Norman has tapped into real issues that face us today and given them a story to hang on that’s believable.

I loved this book. Not only is it well written and insightful, but it highlighted issues that are relevant to many – especially parents of teenagers. A big thumbs up.

Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. This copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.