When You Get the Chance, by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson, is a delightful book about family, relationships and identity. Told through the dual points of view of two queer cousins, Mark and Talia, it follows their quest to attend Toronto’s Pride Festival. The book doesn’t come out until May 5, 2020, but I was privileged to receive a complimentary advance reading copy.
From the publisher:
As kids, Mark and his cousin Talia spent many happy summers together at the family cottage in Ontario, but a fight between their parents put an end to the annual event. Living on opposite coasts — Mark in Halifax and Talia in Victoria — they haven’t seen each other in years. When their grandfather dies unexpectedly, Mark and Talia find themselves reunited at the cottage once again, cleaning it out while the family decides what to do with it.
Mark and Talia are both queer, but they soon realize that’s about all they have in common, other than the fact that they’d both prefer to be in Toronto. Talia is desperate to see her high school sweetheart Erin, who’s barely been in touch since leaving to spend the summer working at a coffee shop in the Gay Village. Mark, on the other hand, is just looking for some fun, and Toronto Pride seems like the perfect place to find it.
When a series of complications throws everything up in the air, Mark and Talia — with Mark’s little sister Paige in tow — decide to hit the road for Toronto. With a bit of luck, and some help from a series of unexpected new friends, they might just make it to the big city and find what they’re looking for. That is, if they can figure out how to start seeing things through each other’s eyes.
When You Get the Chance is a quick read, coming in at 272 pages, and at its heart, it’s a small story. Unlike Ryan’s thriller Keep This To Yourself, Mark and Talia aren’t dealing with life and death here. Still, the stakes are very real for them – will they get to Pride, what will become of their romantic relationships, will their parents reconcile in the wake of their grandfather’s death.
On their road trip to Pride, we’re introduced to a wide array of strangers who become fast friends. They help Mark and Talia overcome the many obstacles (some self-inflicted) standing in their way. There’s a great diversity in LGBTQ+ representation in the book, with multi-generational perspectives that offer increased depth.
I initially found both Mark and Talia to be somewhat unlikable, and I believe this is by design. Mark appears to care little for others’ feelings as long as he’s getting what he wants. Talia is constantly on guard for others’ (often accidental) misuse of nomenclature or misrepresentation of identity. However, over the course of When You Get the Chance, we see both Mark and Talia recognizing some of the flaws in their worldview and work to become more empathetic.
I greatly enjoyed When You Get the Chance. It offers a lot of insight into family relationships and LGBTQ+ representation and history, and throws in a fun road trip to boot.
Note: although I received a complimentary advance reading copy, this review represents my opinion.