Friday, December 8, 2023

Book Review: The Second Chance Year

By Jami Denison

I’m not the kind of person who tells off people when they’ve wronged me. Instead, I hold my tongue, worried about burning bridges and missing opportunities. Sometimes I wonder if this makes me mature or just a pushover.

Not so for Sadie Thatcher, heroine of Melissa Wiesner’s latest novel, The Second Chance Year. It’s New Year’s Eve and she’s on the couch in the NYC apartment of her brother’s best friend Jacob, where she’s been living since she lost her boyfriend and then her job, all due to her big mouth. When a friend drags her to a carnival-themed NYE party, she finds a fortune teller and wishes for a chance to do the year over. Then she goes home and kisses Jacob, the only good thing to happen the entire year. When she wakes up on New Year’s Day, she’s in her old apartment and sleeping next to her ex-boyfriend. Sadie’s wish for a second chance has come true! Will she use it to make the same mistakes that she did last year… or will this be the year that all her dreams come true? And what about Jacob?

Romantic comedies are not my top genre, but I have a soft spot for ones with magic—the body switching, the years-skipping, the ending up in the past. The Second Chance Year really stands out, because it’s not only about what a character does, it’s about who she is, and how that impacts and affects the people around her. Unlike a Sliding Doors type of story, Sadie knows it isn’t about turning right instead of left or catching an earlier train. She decides to keep her mouth shut—changing an essential part of her personality, which had always been about standing up for herself and others—in order to keep the job and the boyfriend. As the year goes on, she has to decide whether it’s worth it to transform herself into something she’s not, and to examine what those choices cost her. While most readers rarely find themselves magically transported back or forward in time (and if you have, please reach out because I’d love to hear all about it), almost all of us have questioned our reactions and choices, and wished for a do-over in certain tricky situations.  

Wiesner also digs into precisely what goads Sadie—injustice, especially when sexism is involved. Her boyfriend Alex is a Wall Street investment banker, and the men he works with are pigs. Sadie works in the restaurant industry, where women are routinely looked over and overlooked. In these situations, does speaking out help, or only make things worse? 

With heavy subject matters and deep questions about what’s right, this romantic comedy is a little light on the humor. Most of the laughs come from the missed opportunities with Jacob, and some pratfalls. But this isn’t a book that needs belly laughs, and structurally, it’s very sound, with strong plot points and reversals. I also appreciated that, unlike other books with similar premises, Sadie doesn’t take chapters to figure out what happened. She wakes up, remembers her wish, realizes it came true, and gets on with her business. With this fast pace and the book’s short chapters, The Second Chance Year is a quick and engaging read. 

Is it better to say what you feel, or keep your mouth shut and hope things get better? The Second Chance Year will make readers ask these questions, while entertaining them with a great story. Maybe next time I’ll tell off that friend who had me show her houses, but used another agent to make the offer. Maybe.   

Thanks to Forever for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Melissa Wiesner:

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