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The Chance You Won't Return by Annie…

The Chance You Won't Return

by Annie Cardi

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Source: Won this in a giveaway from The Hanging Garden.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended?: Yes, particularly because of the wonderful, nuanced portrayal of mental illnesses.
Content Note: Parent’s nonspecific mental illness with delusions and people’s reactions to it, including shame and anger. Decent depiction of anxiety in main character.


Alex Winchester is an amazing protagonist in this story of love and mental illness. Alex’s voice is delightful, sharp and funny without being bitter, with a razor edge to her wit. She’s been placed in a terrible situation; tasked by her father to protect her younger siblings from her mother’s mental illness, she’s dealing with her own anxiety while trying to survive high school, including driver’s ed and a confusing (and absolutely adorable) flirtation with her first crush.

I have bipolar disorder (which presents with OCD and anxiety). I’m always leery of the portrayal of mental illness in young adult books (and all media), particularly when the narrator is not the one with the mental illness being addressed. Too often, it’s the “sane” character reacting to the things the person with the mental illness does, in a way that very much others people with mental illness. Not so here, in part because Alex deal with anxiety herself, a foil to her mother’s delusions, but also because Cardi uses a deft hand writing both mental illnesses without blame or pity — her characters remain nuanced and human, flawed and wonderful because of their flaws. Despite how much the mental illnesses drive the story, the characters never become just their mental illness.

I particularly liked the way the doctors struggled to find the right medication to treat the delusional disorder. I run into a lot of people who think meds are a miracle cure, but that’s not how they work; there is a lot of trial and error, and it meant a lot for me to see that portrayed realistically here.

THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN is at turns funny and romantic, heartbreaking and entertaining, and an absolute joy to read. ( )
  carlamlee | Apr 3, 2015 |
Figuring out normal teen stuff is complicated enough for most kids, but what do you do when there's a boatload of stuff the guidebooks never mention overwhelming you? That's what Alex Winchester is facing. Her dad works for the post office. Her mom works at a dentist's office, but does she any more? It wasn't that long ago when Alex's baby sister was born too prematurely to breathe on her own. She died shortly after birth, setting in motion events that leave Alex way over her head.
Add in that every time she gets behind the wheel of the aging Volvo used for driver's education, she loses it and can't breathe or remember which does what. This panic results in her tearing up the end of the football field and becoming a hallway laughingstock at school. That would be bad enough, but there's something even scarier happening at home. Her mother is becoming Amelia Earhart.
Alex can't deal with her feelings of being overwhelmed. The more she reads about Amelia Earhart's life, the more frightened she is that her mom is slipping away into doing something drastic. Worst of all, Alex can't tell anyone about how crazy her life has become. When Jim, a high school senior who drove through the corner of his parent's house the year before and was exiled to his grandparents' farm recognizes a kindred spirit, he offers to take her practice driving. Their driving sessions become a lot more, something Alex desperately needs, but even then, she can't tell him what's going on at home because she's too afraid.
It takes some personal melting down on her part to allow cracks in attempt at controlling her messed-up world to form before she and the rest of her family begin the healing process.
This is a sad book that ends on a hopeful note. It's one geared for mature teens, particularly those who are wrestling with grief or family mental health issues. It's a worthy addition for both school and public libraries. ( )
  sennebec | Sep 25, 2014 |
Interesting Concept, Unlikable Narrator

(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.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2014/10/04/the-chance-you-wont-return-by-annie-cardi/ ( )
  smiteme | Sep 1, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0763662925, Hardcover)

When your mom thinks she’s Amelia Earhart, navigating high school, first love, and family secrets is like flying solo without a map.

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?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:45 -0400)

High school student Alex Winchester struggles to hold her life together in the face of her mother's threatening delusions about being Amelia Earhart.

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