May 22, 2020

When You Get the Chance

Written by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson
Running Press Teens
272 pp.
Ages 12+
May 2021
(n.b. The original release date was May 2020 but I have been informed by author Robin Stevenson that the date has been changed to May 2021)

Teens Talia and Mark may think that their destiny is to attend Toronto Pride when they and their families visit Ontario for a funeral but, though they get there, their stories in When You Get the Chance are all about the journey.

When Talia and her dad Gary come from Victoria and meet up with his sister Janet and two kids, Mark and 10-year-old Paige, who live in Halifax, the atmosphere is cool. Though Gary and Janet are attending their father's funeral and trying to help their mother through the loss, their long-term estrangement causes great friction, especially about the family cottage in Muskoka which Gary thinks should be sold and Janet hopes to visit with her kids. Grandma insists they all go up there together and spend a week before a decision will be made.

But, when Grandma has a fall and the adults rush back to Toronto, leaving the kids to fend for themselves–grant you, Talia and Mark are in their late teens–the summer becomes a whole lot more interesting. Paige is determined to discover what lead to her mom's estrangement from her brother so, while she and Talia clean and sort, she speculates and puts clues together. Mark, on the other hand, is smitten with local boy Darren who has come around to help fix a 1970 Ford Mustang discovered in a shed. Mark, unfortunately, is all about Mark and, after he learns what Darren is really like, he decides to head to Toronto for Pride. Talia, whose partner Erin had recently moved to Toronto, is desperate to see them (Erin is non-binary and uses they/them/their pronouns), insists Mark take his cousin and, of course, Paige must come along too.

However, when the old Mustang breaks down, their trip looks like it's ended early. But, after meeting diner owner Shirley Jr. and her mechanic partner Babs who offer to take the kids to Toronto themselves, it's a new journey for Mark and Talia in resolving past relationships, meeting new people, experiencing their first Toronto Pride, and discovering who they are and what they need.

For anyone who doesn't know where they fit in, When You Get the Chance provides the promise that somewhere there is such a place for all. While Mark is confident in being out as gay, Talia has come from a small community where she and partner Erin depended on each other for support. But when Erin leaves for the big city and finds a new community, Talia has to balance what she needed then with what she wants now. Fortunately, with much soul-searching and some heartbreak, Talia finds her way.
These are my people, this is my community. I may not know how I identify or whatever, but I'm pretty sure that whatever I am, there's a place for me under this great big queer rainbow. (pg. 177)
Writers Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson have given us a road trip story with a twist in When You Get the Chance. By writing in the alternate voices of Mark and Talia who are from different coasts and have different experiences with their sexuality, Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson present distinct and valid perspectives on being gay or queer or however a young person may identify. By including a myriad of communities from young and old, to gay, straight, non-binary and even polyamorous, they have demonstrated that everyone belongs and sometimes all it takes is one chance and a trip in a vintage yellow Mustang to find one's self, one's voice and community.

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