When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson is unapologetically queer, but aside from that doesn’t have much to offer.
What’s it about?
Cousins Mark and Talia haven’t seen each other in years. They used to spend every summer together at their grandparents’ cottage, but haven’t done so since their parents fell out. When their grandfather unexpectedly dies and their grandmother suffers a health setback, their parents leave them alone at the cottage—along with Mark’s sister Paige—to clean it up and potentially get it ready to sell. Unbeknownst to the adults, though, Mark and Talia have plans in the big city: Talia wants to reconnect with her ex, and Mark just wants to cut loose at Pride.
What’d I think?
I read tons of LGBTQ+ books. I rarely read books that aren’t at least a little bit queer. I love stories about loving families and other platonic relationships. When You Get the Chance looked like it was going to be a home run for me. I mean, just look at the cover. It’s so joyfully gay! And since a lot of LGBTQ+ fiction is, for obvious reasons, focused on romance, I was extra excited about this one. The concept was appealing enough that I read it without taking even a preliminary look at any reviews. I probably shouldn’t have done that, because if I had I either would have skipped it or I would have prepared myself for a solidly three-star read.
There main problem with When You Get the Chance is that it’s scattered. There’s too much going on. Too many characters, too many plotlines, too many ideas, etc. There are two main plotlines that feel entirely disconnected from each other.
The first is the family drama with Talia’s dad and Mark’s mother. They were close as children and then had a falling out, possibly involving a childhood friend neither has ever mentioned to their own kids, and now they’re thrown back together because of their dad’s death. At the start of the novel, the two families head back to the summer cottage after the funeral to clean it out. Talia’s dad wants to sell it, but Mark’s mom wants to hold onto it. They’re eternally at each other’s throats, and Paige wants to dig deep and find out what is going on. Mark and Talia are less concerned, assuming that it’s just standard grown-up growing apart. Talia wants to be responsible and get the cottage cleaned up. Mark wants to bum around, get drunk, and flirt with the bad boy next door. This set up could have sustained a whole novel, but instead most of it gets quickly wrapped up for a road trip. After only a few short chapters, Mark’s guy ends up being a homophobe who was just hanging around to steal old tools, so Mark decides to totally bail and drive to Pride. Talia, who wants to reconnect with her ex, ditches the cleaning and they all go together.
Remember the apparently large plotline with their parents’ puzzling animosity? Mark and Talia don’t. They forget it entirely, only to remember it and have it quickly and anticlimactically wrapped up a few pages from the end when they get back from the city. Want to know what else they forget? Their dead grandfather. The dead grandfather is a really weird bit of this book. The authors go out of their way to tell us that he was in incredibly good health and that his death was a shock that no one saw coming… and yet no one really grieves. The parents are a little sad, but our main protagonists apparently couldn’t care less. If Ryan and Stevenson didn’t want to engage even superficially with grief, they should’ve found a different way to bring the families together. Even changing it so that Grandpa had been ailing for long enough that everyone had already made peace with his passing would’ve made Mark and Talia’s apathy more palatable. Maybe Ryan and Stevenson could have leaned into the idea that his death was such a shock that no one has processed it yet. As is, it’s just weird and makes everyone seem heartless.