The Chance (Karen Kingsbury book)
The novel is one of her "standalone" works (i.e. not part of one of her series, such as one featuring the Baxter clan, who are featured in no less than six separate series). However, two characters from a prior work (Ryan and Molly from The Bridge) appear with key roles; the main characters of this book (Nolan and Ellie) later appear in a subsequent work, Fifteen Minutes.
In the summer of 2002, Ellie Tucker's life is devastated by the news that her mother (Caroline) is pregnant as the result of a two-year-long affair with Peyton Anders, a country music singer, and is kicked out of the house by her father (Alan, a military instructor who places job above family, and who quotes Scripture to boss everyone around that he is the head of the house). Two days later, Alan announces that he and Ellie are moving the next day from their home in Savannah, Georgia to Camp Pendleton, where he has taken a job. Alan's bitterness toward Caroline is predominant; he does not even allow Ellie the chance to visit her mother before moving.
Her only final visit is with Nolan Cook, her lifelong friend and budding childhood sweetheart. The two make a promise: each one will write a letter to the other and place it in an old tackle box, buried underneath an oak tree at a local park. They agree to meet (if they don't do so before) on June 1, 2013, eleven years to the day and read each other's letter.
In the ensuing eleven years their lives take dramatically opposite paths. Nolan becomes a basketball superstar, eventually playing for the Atlanta Hawks. He is very open about his Christian faith, and not surprisingly is linked to several women, including the daughter of a popular Christian recording artist. His ability is due in equal parts to his Christian faith, and a deep loneliness he can't shake: he misses the game-winning shot in the state championship game (the year after Ellie's move), and only hours later his dad (and coach) is found dead of a heart attack. Moreover, his attempts to locate Ellie have grown cold; even hiring a private investigator (with part of his $10 million signing bonus) is unsuccessful. To honor his dad, after every game or practice he takes one final shot, from the left side of the three-point line where he missed the shot in the championship.
Ellie, on the other hand, believed that Caroline no longer wanted to communicate with her (not knowing that Alan intercepted Caroline's letters to Ellie—one letter each week for nearly eleven years). Feeling that Nolan had also moved on, and seeing her father continue to be harsh and judgmental, Ellie abandons her Christian faith. At 19 she becomes pregnant by a soldier, who quickly dumps her and is later killed in Iraq. Alan shows her no compassion, and she moves out. Ellie later gives birth to her daughter, Kinzie (named for the street on which she and Nolan regularly met before school). At 21 Ellie legally changes her name, making it impossible for Nolan to locate her; she believes that Nolan would no longer want her due to her being an unwed mother, especially one with no faith. However, she allows Kinzie to attend church with her roommate and her roommate's daughter. And from time to time, she will watch the Hawks play on television to catch a glimpse of her old friend.
At one point after the two spend the day at the San Diego Zoo, Ellie tells Kinzie about her birth father, admitting that the two were never really in love; she admits to Kinzie that she was once in love with the now-famous Nolan Cook. Kinzie prays for her mom to reconnect with Nolan, but more importantly to find her "happy ever after" with Jesus.
As June 1 approaches, Ryan Kelly is hired as a touring guitarist by Peyton Anders, who reveals that he fathered a son with Caroline Tucker, and wants to give her money for the boy; Ryan meets her but she refuses the money, only asking that he pray that Ellie contacts her. Ryan and his wife Molly (who also operate The Dream Foundation, which provides terminally-ill children a chance to live their final dreams) are approached by the family of Gunner, a terminally-ill eight-year-old leukemia patient who's wish is to watch a Hawks game and play basketball with Nolan, a wish Nolan grants. While talking, Nolan mentions to Ryan about his lost love; Ryan puts the pieces together that he is speaking of Ellie, which Nolan confirms. Molly has only one piece of advice: if there was a possibility that they might wind up in the same place at the same time—don't miss the chance.
Meanwhile, Alan (on what was Ellie's 26th birthday) begins to break down over the years of estrangement between himself, Caroline, and Ellie. After meeting with a chaplain Alan writes two letters, both asking for forgiveness: one to Ellie for his withholding her mail (he gives the letter, along with a box containing the mail, to her; the meeting does not go well as Ellie is angry over what he has done) and the other to Caroline for his actions in keeping her and Ellie apart.
Nolan senses that Ellie may be in trouble; at that same moment Ellie begins reading the letters. One letter upsets her the most—the letter sensed Ellie was in trouble; it was dated the day before Kinzie's birth.
Ellie decides that she and Kinzie need to go to Savannah and meet Caroline. Kinzie reminds Ellie about how she taught her forgiveness; Ellie decides that they will visit Alan before the long drive. Ellie also has one last plan: to go to the park and dig up the old letters and read Nolan's, as a means of closure (believing media reports that Nolan is dating a well-known Christian personality, along with her belief that Nolan would no longer want the Ellie of today).
Nolan arrives in Savannah on a two-day break (which happens to include June 1) and meets Caroline, who tells him Ellie is in town. However, Ellie tries to avoid meeting him; when she does she's defensive, not wanting Nolan to know about her past. He never mentions the June 1 meeting; she believes he's forgotten and plans to leave town.
However, Nolan is prompted to camp out at the park beginning at midnight (planning to stay the entire 24 hours if needed); Ellie is also prompted to go to the park and arrives in the early morning hours secretly trying to dig up the box, read his letter, and move on with her life. But Nolan already has dug up the box; Ellie sees him and tries to leave but before she can he tells her he sees her. Each reads the other's letter: Ellie's letter thanks Nolan for being so good to her and says she loves him; Nolan's letter says that by the time they read these letters they will be married and he will play for the Hawks. Later at Caroline's house Ellie tells Nolan all about what happened in the intervening eleven years, including the circumstances of Kinzie's birth. Nolan is not judgmental; he says he still wants to marry Ellie and be Kinzie's father. For the first time since high school, Ellie finally prays and once again believes that God was there for her along the way.
In the deciding Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Nolan surprises Caroline by flying Alan to the game, whereupon the two reunite and plan to restore their broken marriage. The Hawks defeat the Los Angeles Lakers at home for their first NBA title. Nolan is named Finals MVP, whereupon he thanks Jesus Christ for his ability, and dedicates the game to his dad, and to Ellie (announcing his plans to marry her). He walks out of Phillips Arena, for once not taking his practice shot, but "[w]ith his arm around the only girl he ever loved. Ellie Tucker."
- Nolan Cook - the main male character. He has been Ellie's best friend since second grade and by the time they turned 15 he began to have romantic feelings for her. It is his idea to plant the box with the letters in the park. Eleven years later Nolan becomes an NBA star for the Atlanta Hawks, and uses his stardom to publicly proclaim his Christian faith. However, Ellie's departure (and his inability to find her) along with his dad's death as a teenager have left him lonely.
- Ellie Tucker - the main female character. She is forced to move away at 15 due to her parents' marital troubles, taking her away from her best friend Nolan (about whom she is also beginning to have romantic feelings). Her relationship with her father—and with God—deteriorate over the ensuing eleven years; she ends up pregnant at 19 and gives birth to a daughter. Eventually she changes her name to keep Nolan from finding her. After learning the truth about her mother, she returns to Savannah and initially doesn't want to reconnect with Nolan due to her being an unwed single mother.
- Caroline Tucker - Ellie's mother. Her pregnancy due to an affair causes her marriage to break up (though there is no ensuing divorce); she gives birth to a son. She writes a letter every week for eleven years attempting to reconnect with Ellie.
- Alan Tucker - Ellie's father. A Marine who places career over family, he is harsh and unforgiving to both Caroline and Ellie, using Scripture to boss them around. He intercepts Caroline's letters to Ellie and hides them. Ultimately he has a breakdown and recognizes that his actions have caused him to be estranged from his family.
- Kinzie - Ellie's daughter, named for the street on which she and Nolan would meet each day before school. Ellie allows her to go to church with Ellie's roommates and she prays for her mother to return to Jesus—and reconnect with Nolan.
- Ryan and Molly Kelly - founders of The Dream Foundation (similar to Make-A-Wish). Originally featured in The Bridge, they ultimately connect with Caroline and Nolan, praying for Ellie to return.
- Peyton Anders - a country singer with whom Caroline has the affair and is the father of her child. Ryan tours with him and learns about Caroline during the tour.
- Tina and Tiara - Ellie's roommates. They take Kinzie to church each Sunday.
- John - Caroline's son by Peyton Anders.
- Gunner - a terminally ill young boy who Nolan meets through The Dream Foundation. It is through him that Ryan learns about Nolan's relationship with Caroline and Ellie.
- Jimbo - a homeless man (likely an alcoholic) whom Ellie befriends and helps from time to time.
- CJ Andrews - Kinzie's birth father. He wants nothing to do with Ellie after their sexual encounter and discovering she is pregnant. Ellie, in turn, does not list him as the father on the birth certificate. He dies in combat in Iraq; though Ellie does not go to his memorial service she does portray him in a positive light to Kinzie.
- In an earlier Kingsbury novel, Hannah's Hope (released 2005), a character named CJ (an Army pilot) is mentioned; CJ dies when the chopper he co-pilots is shot down while on a mission in Iraq. In that novel, CJ is mentioned as not having any children. (It should be noted that Kingsbury frequently reuses characters in her books.)
Christian Values Portrayed
The main theme of the book is forgiveness: both Caroline and Ellie ultimately forgive Alan for his harsh, judgmental, unloving ways. The song "Forgiveness" by Christian artist Matthew West is referenced in the book (and used in a YouTube promotional trailer for the book).
Nolan is portrayed in a positive light, using his professional basketball talents to honor Christ publicly.
Although both Caroline and Ellie commit the sin of sex outside marriage, and both end up pregnant as a result, neither chooses abortion and both choose to raise their children as single parents (though Alan and Caroline never legally divorce). Caroline ends up restoring her faith in the face of tragedy; though Ellie loses her faith she allows Kinzie to attend church with her roommates, where she is given Adventures in Odyssey CD's and learns to "sing something about cucumbers" (a reference to the VeggieTales series) and builds up her childlike faith enough to pray for Ellie and Nolan to meet again.
Negative Values Portrayed
The Chance is rare among Christian fiction in that it portrays members of the military in a negative light.
Alan (a Marine Corps sergeant) is portrayed as harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving, misusing Scripture to boss his family around. He also places his military career above his family. He throws Caroline out of their house when she announces her pregnancy by another man, and later forces Ellie to listen to numerous Bible verses about sexual sin when she announces her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. He illegally withholds Caroline's letters that she faithfully writes to Ellie, once a week for eleven years (withholding another person's mail is a Federal crime). He shows no love for either Caroline or Ellie after their sins, causing him to be estranged from his wife for eleven years and his daughter for seven (at 21 Ellie legally changes her name and Kinzie's to drop the Tucker surname in response to his actions and her belief that her mother never wanted to contact her, and partially to keep Nolan from discovering how she turned out in the interim).
CJ Andrews (Kinzie's birth father. also a soldier) wants nothing to do with Ellie after she informs him of his pregnancy. In return, when Ellie learns of his death while in combat, she doesn't attend his memorial service. She does not list him as the father on Kinzie's birth certificate.