Set in Dublin and Siena, with its dizzying, dare-devil Palio horse race, this is a story about taking chances, being brave and learning the best way to see the world. Some people step through a wardrobe to find adventure, but Minty follows the twisty-turny trees into Nettlebog. There she finds Ned Buckley – the moody, mysterious boy who never talks at school. As Minty’s world disintegrates around her she searches for refuge in Nettlebog, and she discovers more about Ned: he’s able to ride wild horses. And he knows things about the human race that will save her. Or there’s a very good chance at least. This book follows Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s debut novel BACK TO BLACKBRICK and THE APPLE TART OF HOPE.
From the cold fantasy world of Six of Crows, A Very Good Chance was a warm, happier place to spend some time. It reminded me a lot of books I would have read when I was younger, particularly Kate McMahon’s A Horse of Another Colour, by another Irish author. The book relies heavily on its dreamy imagery and its romantic view of nature and the qualities that every person possesses. In the case of Ned Buckley, the mystery at the centre of the narrative, his qualities are unconventional and perhaps undervalued in society. He is focused and driven, but not necessarily academically as would be expected by the school community in this book.
We meet Minty, the narrator, at a difficult time in her life, and Ned provides the kind of mystery and attraction that she didn’t know she needed. Her burgeoning friendship with Ned is a positive for Minty, helping to get beyond her current problems and realise her own talents. Ned himself is a total mystery until almost halfway through the narrative, though the reader is intrigued as to what exactly his story is.
The other two stars of this story are the beautifully-described Nettlebog, and the passionate Serena Serralunga, the history teacher, from Italy. Her presence turns out to be very important in the book, and in influencing the cover and conclusion of the story.
Minty is a funny and wry voice throughout, particularly in addressing her father’s new living situation. She is finding her own independent niche in the world, and it’s interesting to be privy to that coming-of-age of sorts.
A Very Good Chance flourishes, however, in its celebration of diversity. Ned Buckley is different, absolutely. But Minty, Serena and others see the talent and goodness in him and treat him the same as they would anyone else, which in itself is a great message to take away from this and to impart to the target audience here.