Nature vs. nurture. It’s one of the oldest debates in psychology. Is the person you become determined by the genes you inherited or the environment you grew up in? Thanks to so many of those poor identical twins who were raised apart, there’s enough data to make a firm determination of: It depends.
This question hums along in the background of Holly Robinson’s engaging women’s fiction novel, Chance Harbor. Solid, dependable Catherine was nothing like her scatterbrained younger sister Zoe, a drug addict who dumped her 10-year-old daughter Willow on Catherine and then disappeared five years ago. Now Willow is fifteen, and the formerly straight-laced girl is sneaking out, lying, shoplifting and more. Are Zoe’s damaged genes at fault? Or does Willow’s behavior have more to do with her uncle/guardian Russell, a teacher who has dumped Catherine in order to be with an 18-year-old student at Willow’s school, Nola, a spoiled little rich girl pregnant with his child? And what secrets does Eve, the sisters’ mother, hold about their past that play directly into their relationship?
Obviously, there is a lot going on in this novel!
Although the story is told from the viewpoints of Catherine, Eve, and Willow, Catherine feels like the center of this universe. The book starts with a prologue, describing the night she got a call from Willow that Zoe had left her at a bus station with instructions to call Aunt Catherine. Ever since, she’s been more mother than aunt, and her husband Russell the only father Willow has ever known. But that universe is shattered when Russell announces he’s impregnated Nola – and now he wants a divorce so he can marry her. With Willow’s abrupt change in behavior, Catherine’s family is on the verge of breaking down completely.
As for Eve, she’s still dealing with the death of her husband Andrew. Their second home on Chance Harbor, part of Canada’s Prince Edward Island, is both a refuge and a reminder of their marriage. She’s decided to fix it up and sell it, but will the memories prove too much? Eve confides in Russell that her own marriage had some equally rocky times. Later, she’s forced to reveal exactly what they were.
Most of the important plot twists in the book are fairly predictable, mostly because Robinson’s set-ups are a little too obvious. However, this does not lessen enjoyment of the book. Rather, it lets the reader sit back and wait for what’s inevitable.
The most surprising part of the book is the burgeoning relationship between Willow and Nola, who’d been her school’s Regina George before committing social suicide by hooking up with "Coach Carr." At first, Willow had been a bit in awe of Nola, then she hated her for breaking up her parents’ marriage. But forced to spend time together, the two find themselves unlikely confidants. Nola is an intriguing character all on her own: She’s rich, independent and beautiful. Why on earth would a girl like that have an affair with a history teacher? The book does a solid job in exploring this question as part of the subplot.
Unlike the author’s previous book, Haven Lake, the setting does not play as much of an impact on the characters. And Chance Harbor is more similar to Jennifer Weiner’s Fly Away Home than Robinson’s earlier novel.
Chance Harbor is a nice addition to the women’s fiction lexicon, with complex characters, family dysfunction and inappropriate relationships. Although it was somewhat predictable, it kept me turning pages.
Thanks to Berkley/NAL for the book in exchange for an honest review.
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