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#1 New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury proves it’s never too late for love in this heartwarming story about childhood friends, broken lives, and an age-old promise.

Years ago, the day before Ellie moved from Georgia to California, she and her best friend Nolan sat beneath the Spanish moss of an ancient oak tree and wrote letters to each other, sealing them in a rusty old metal box. The plan was to return eleven years later and read them in 2013, the year Nolan’s time traveling books say all the mysteries of the world will be understood.

Now, as that date approaches, much has changed. Ellie, bereft of the faith she grew up with, is a single mom living in a tired apartment and trying to make ends meet. Nolan, now an NBA star, has dealt with terrible personal tragedies that fueled his faith and athletic drive in equal measure. Ever since his father and coach succumbed to a heart attack, Nolan has suffered from a transcendent loneliness. Drowning in an ocean of grief, he often thinks about Ellie and the innocence of their childhood days together.

As Ellie and Nolan move toward the possibility of a reunion at the oak tree, Molly and Ryan, the central characters from author Karen Kingsbury’s previous novel The Bridge, return in their own ongoing story. Written by the “Queen of Christian Fiction” (Time) with eloquence and grace, The Chance is a beautiful tale of heart-wrenching loss, the power of faith, and the wounds that only love can heal.

The Chance Chapter One
Chandra Olson made the trek every July.

She inked it on her calendar and told her manager and booking staff so everyone in her camp knew she was off-limits. For two days in midsummer, nothing was more important to America’s premier black vocalist than leaving Los Angeles, flying to Birmingham, and driving out to the old country cemetery where her parents were buried.

Nothing.

She would spend the day here, same as she did each July for the last four years. No driver or entourage or fanfare. Just Chandra Olson, a fold-up camping chair, a cooler of Smart Water, and a journal.

Always a journal.

That way Chandra could write her parents a letter they would never read and express in words her thanks for their support, and her regrets at the cost of fame.

The very great cost.

She parked her rental car in the corner spot and surveyed the area. Oak trees dotted the couple of acres of grass and tombstones that made up the graveyard. There were a few worn-out bouquets and the occasional American flag pressed into the earth over the grave of a soldier’s sacrifice. A quick look around confirmed what she hoped to find. She was alone. The place was empty except for her.

Chandra stepped carefully over the freshly mowed grass, making her way between markers to the place where her parents lay buried. She set her cooler down and opened her chair. Then, for a long moment, she simply stared at the etchings in the modest gray stones, letting the truth wash over her once more. Martin and Muriel Olson. Young and vibrant and full of life. Her dad, forty-eight. Her mother, just forty-four. Weddings, grandbabies, retirement—all of life ahead of them. Shot down in the prime of life.

Tears blurred Chandra’s eyes. The death date was the same for both of them. May 15, 2009.

A song burned in her heart this morning, a lyric that had been swimming to the surface for weeks. It would come together here, Chandra was sure. Here, close to the bodies of her parents and with the first round of auditions for this season’s Fifteen Minutes set to begin later in the week. The song would be a ballad. A warning to be careful what you wish for, be careful what you dream.

In case it actually happens.

Chandra took her seat and studied the gray clouds low-slung over the cemetery. Somewhere in houses across America, they were getting ready. Tens of thousands of them. Saying good-bye to family and friends and headed off for a weekend of auditions in one of eight cities across the country. Looking for a shot at their own personal fifteen minutes of fame.

Six years ago she was that wide-eyed singer, working at a day-care center and taking college classes at night. Nineteen years old with a dream bigger than Texas. What did she know about Fifteen Minutes or where it might lead, where the journey would take her?

For a long moment Chandra closed her eyes and saw herself, the way she was back then. No one was more excited about her Fifteen Minutes audition than Chandra’s parents. They were hard workers, both of them managers in office jobs in Birmingham. Martin and Muriel grew up in the projects, too poor to eat some days. They spent their lives trying to give their kids—Chandra and her brother, Chaz—everything they never had. Chaz’s dream had been soccer. He was playing now, a senior at Liberty University in Virginia. But only because her parents had worked overtime to pay thousands of dollars in club soccer fees, private coaching, and gym memberships.

It was the same way for Chandra, only her passion wasn’t soccer—it was singing.

She opened her eyes and looked at her mother’s tombstone. You used to tell me I was born humming. Remember that? You gave me every advantage, Mama. It was true. Chandra took voice lessons from the best teachers in the city. She attended a private arts school on the south side, and when she wrote her first song, her parents took her to Atlanta and had it produced by a guy whose name was synonymous with R&B hits.

But nothing opened the door to her singing career the way Fifteen Minutes had. Chandra blazed through the audition process and, even with the show’s manufactured drama, there was never really any contest. On the finale show, when host Kit Barker smiled at the cameras and rattled off the famous line “The next fifteen minutes of fame goes to . . . Chandra Olson!” there wasn’t one surprised person in the audience or at home.

“You might be the best singer to ever grace the Fifteen Minutes stage.” That’s what one of the judges that season told her, and the comment was plastered across Internet websites everywhere, from the Today show to People magazine.

Chandra remembered a private moment with her mother a week later. “You realize how big this is, baby girl?”

Beneath the warmth of her mother’s words, Chandra’s heart swelled. She hugged her mama for a long time. “It’s big.”

“It’s bigger than that!” Her mother put her hands on her shoulders and looked deep into her eyes. “Fifteen Minutes is the biggest show on television, baby. And you’re the best singer they’ve ever seen! God’s gonna use you, child. He’s gonna use you like none of us can begin to imagine.”

Her mama was right about Fifteen Minutes. The show had been on the air a dozen years, and though other voice talent television programs competed for a share of the market, nothing compared to Fifteen Minutes. Between the judge’s comment and her mother’s praise, the future seemed brighter than the sun, Chandra’s potential unlimited.

Anyone could see the success ahead.

But none of them could have anticipated what happened nearly two years later. The second spring after Chandra’s win, with her first album topping the charts and her fame far surpassing fifteen minutes, an Alabama stalker stepped into the picture. He found her on Facebook and asked for a loan. Money to help him and his mother buy a house. Chandra let the comment pass.

The request quickly became harassment with the guy posting daily demands for money. His most chilling post was also his last. What if something happened to your parents, Chandra? Maybe that would get your attention!

Chandra blocked him from her Facebook page that day and filed a report with the Birmingham police.

“The guy’s annoying,” the Birmingham officer told her, “but anyone can make a Facebook page. We can’t prove he’s a guy or that he lives in Alabama.” He added that there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day to investigate everyone who bothered a celebrity.

Her concert schedule rolled on and Chandra tried to forget the guy’s comment.

But one warm night in late May, her parents pulled into their driveway after a church service and climbed out of their car. According to one of the neighbors outside getting her mail, Chandra’s parents were laughing and talking. Her father had just taken her mother’s hand when a spray of bullets exploded from the front porch area, ripping through their bodies and killing them instantly.

The man turned out to be crazy, a certified insane patient who had escaped from a mental hospital in Mississippi. He waited on the Olsons’ front porch until police arrived and he immediately admitted to the killings. “I wanted to get Chandra’s attention,” he told police.

It worked.

Life would forever be measured as before and after the shooting. No question, a part of Chandra was buried right here with her parents. In the wake of their murders, she took two months off and became a recluse, handling her parents’ affairs, afraid to leave the house. But eventually she had no choice but to return to the limelight.

The stage owned her now. It was where she belonged.

Questions plagued her then the way they still did here at the cemetery. What was the point of fame and celebrity? All the record sales and accolades and awards? The money and houses and vacations? None of it could take her back to that moment, to her mother’s hands on her shoulders.

Her parents’ faith had been strong and foundational, a key to Chandra’s life before Fifteen Minutes. But now there was only one Bible character she felt any connection with.

Solomon.

The king who had everything, but finished his days believing the most desperate of thoughts—that all of life was meaningless. Chasing after the wind. She had read the book of Ecclesiastes again on her Bible app during the flight and once more she had found her life verse, the only one that applied now. It was from Ecclesiastes 2:17, truth tucked in the midst of a host of depressing Scriptures. She could remember the verse now, word for word.

So I hated my life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Her newest album was number one on iTunes, and she’d been asked back to Fifteen Minutes, this time as a judge. But here in the warmth and quiet of the cemetery, she could only agree with Solomon. All of it was meaningless . . . a chasing after the wind.

All of it.

She opened her journal and began writing. The lyrics came easily, pouring from the gaping holes in her heart. The song would be a hit, she was sure. But even that was meaningless. Only one thing kept Chandra going, kept her engaged in the daily walk through celebrity and fame, through concerts and autograph seekers. It wasn’t her new role as a judge on Fifteen Minutes or the countless hopefuls heading out to audition this week.

Rather it was the fifteen finalists.

The ones whose lives were about to change forever. The ones who would never be the same again . . . who could never go back to life the way it was. Just maybe among them was a singer like she used to be, someone with faith and family and a quiet, happy life.

If she could warn just one of them about the false illusion of fame, she would do it. And in the process she might find something she’d lost four years ago with the death of her parents. The one thing fame could never give her. The one thing worth chasing.

Meaning.
This reading group guide for The Chance includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Karen Kingsbury. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Everything about Ellie Tucker’s life was seemingly perfect. She had a nice enough house with two parents who loved her, an unshakable faith in God and His goodness, and a best friend who lived down the street and understood her completely. Ellie was a typical fifteen-year-old girl living in Savannah, Georgia until that fateful day her world came crumbling down around her. After admitting her two-year affair and pregnancy, Ellie’s mother Caroline was kicked out of the house by Ellie’s father, Alan. Just two days later, Ellie was forced to leave everything behind and move with her father to San Diego, without so much as a goodbye to her mother and only a teenage promise to her best friend, Nolan Cook, to meet again under an old oak tree. Eleven years passed, and Ellie’s former life dissolved before her eyes, except for her love for her childhood best friend. Forced to take a leap of faith and to put her heart on the line, Ellie learns what it means to be true to promises and to never give up on God’s plan.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

 
1. The Chance opens with Ellie and her father alone at the dinner table. Across from Ellie, her mother’s chair “remained glaringly empty” (p. 20). How does this initial image of brokenness function as a motif throughout the rest of the novel? In what other ways does the image of a broken family appear in The Chance?
 
2. A prevalent theme of the novel emerges early on when Ellie’s father prays for the Lord to “reveal the truth, please. In Jesus’ name, amen” (p. 20) and Ellie later thinks that “the truth smothered her like a wet blanket” (p. 23). How is truth and truthfulness an important theme in the novel? Are there different versions of the same truth? Like Chaplain Gray later tells Alan, do you think that it’s never too late to tell the truth because truth stands outside time (p. 173)? Why or why not?
 
3. For Ellie, Savannah is home, the place where she felt happy and loved. In San Diego, everything about Ellie’s life changes, and not for the better. Discuss how the setting—both Savannah and San Diego—affect the characters in the novel. What does Savannah symbolize for Ellie? For Nolan? For Alan and Caroline? In opposition, what does San Diego symbolize for these same characters?
 
4. Discuss Caroline Tucker. Do you like her? Why do you think she looked for love outside of her marriage? Do you blame her for splitting up her family and causing eleven years of heartache? In Caroline’s situation, is there a clear moral right and wrong? Can you think of a silver lining to this situation?
 
5. What does basketball symbolize for Nolan? Why is the game so important to him? Do you think Nolan depends on basketball, and if so, for what? Consider the connection between Nolan’s love of basketball and his love of God in your response.
 
6. On page 74, Nolan and his father recite one of their favorite Bible passages: “with Christ all things are possible.” For Nolan, what “things” does Christ make possible? How does this quote also apply to Ellie and her parents? Do you think that Christ makes the impossible possible for their family?
 
7. Consider the ways in which Caroline and Ellie are similar. How do Caroline’s choices act as foreshadowing for Ellie’s situation? Against what or whom are both women rebelling?
 
8. On page 97 Ellie says: “she didn’t really want to find Nolan Cook. Didn’t want him to see how she’d changed.” Why do you think Ellie was so scared to face Nolan? Were her fears justified? Although lapsed in her faith, do you think Ellie is still a good Christian? Why or why not?
 
9. Discuss the importance of letter writing in the novel. Which characters write letters and what motivates them to do so? Are the letters representative of words that are difficult to say in person? Is there a common purpose for each letter writer? What is that purpose?
 
10. On page 122 Alan declares that “the truth was . . . Caroline’s affair was his fault.” Do you agree with Alan’s conclusion? What makes Alan realize his fault after so many years?
 
11. Revisit the zoo trip Ellie and Kinzie take in Chapter Fifteen. Why is this particular moment in the novel so important? What happens to the relationship between mother and daughter on this trip? Do you think Kinzie’s questions prompted Ellie to search for answers to questions she had been too afraid to ask herself?
 
12. Discuss Molly and Ryan and how they function in the novel. Are they like angels on earth, facilitating miracles? Would the miracle of the reunited family have been possible without them?
 
13. Is there a particular moment in the novel where Ellie regains her lost faith? Can you attribute her renewed faith in God to any one character? If so, who? Do you think that Ellie and Nolan live happily ever after? What about Caroline and Alan?
 
14. Were you surprised that Ellie and Nolan rekindled their love under the old oak tree? Revisit this scene and discuss the symbolism of the moment. Was Ellie’s reaction what you expected? Was Nolan’s?

Enhance Your Book Club

 
 
1. Karen Kingsbury is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty novels. Have your book club read one of her newer releases, The Bridge, which tells the story of Molly and Ryan, the two characters seemingly responsible for the reuniting of the Tucker family. Discuss with your book club the ways in which Molly and Ryan’s story is similar to and different from Ellie and Nolan’s story. Why is love often so difficult to track down? What would Molly and Ryan say is the reason for their reunion? What about Ellie and Nolan?
 
2. The game of basketball is extremely important in The Chance. On page 127, Nolan refers to “the zone” as the place “where there was only God and him and the leather round ball.” Attend a basketball game with your book club, either amateur or professional. As you watch, consider the ways in which the game is a kind of spiritual practice for Nolan. What connections can you draw between love of God and love of basketball? Afterward, share with your group your observations. What did each of you notice about the players? Do you think there is a reverence to sport that is similar to reverence for God?
 
3. God is very present throughout the novel, and in fact, He speaks directly with many of the characters in The Chance.. Invite your book club over for a faith club meeting. Over dinner, share with your group any moments in your life where you felt God speaking directly to you. What did He say? Like Ryan, do you feel that God has called you to any special vocation in your life, or to perform a certain duty at a certain moment?   
 

A Conversation with Karen Kingsbury 

1. Publishers Weekly has said that you have a “signature mix of melodrama, formula, and genuine emotional punch” in your novels. In your own words, how would you describe your “signature” writing style?  

I write Life-Changing Fiction ™, in that every time I tackle a story the characters come to life in my heart and mind. I see the story as a movie before I outline it or begin to write it. It’s important to me that readers relate to the characters in my books, that they see themselves in them. Real, relatable, relational fiction, where every book offers redemption and hope the readers. Oh, and every book should come with a pack of tissues! That’s what I write.

2. You now live in Nashville, Tennessee. Describe how being in the South is helpful for your writing process. Like Ellie, do you find that physical place helps you change your perspective, and maybe opens wider your heart to God?  

Yes, the physical place makes a difference. I wrote many of my books in Washington – pretty much all my Baxter family books and those involving the Flanigans. I loved living there and writing there. But here in the south my heart feels even deeper, even more connected to the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of life. Maybe that’s because Tennessee is gentle on my heart. I feel hugged by this place, and that makes the writing process happen faster and deeper.

3. The Chance is written from several of the main characters’ points of view. Ultimately, is this Ellie’s story? Or do you think it is impossible to separate Ellie’s story from the others?  

It is more Nolan and Ellie’s story than it is Caroline and Alan’s … but the stories are interwoven on purpose. When The Chance gets made into a movie, the actors who play Nolan and Ellie will be the leads, and those playing Caroline and Alan will be supporting.

4. Along the same lines, who is your favorite character in this novel and why?  

I really love them all, but I lean hard toward Ellie. It wasn’t her fault her life fell apart, and though she feels angry at God, her feelings are understandable. We need to see characters who don’t act perfectly in order to see ourselves in their journey. I also love Nolan’s absolute determination to never give up on Ellie.

5. Many of your characters reappear in subsequent novels. Do you think we will meet Ellie and Nolan again in the future? What about Molly and Ryan?  

You never know! Sometimes I’ll be writing a new story and the characters will take me into a place where suddenly I see familiar faces. That’s happened many times – and it could happen with these characters as well!

6. Describe your writing practice. Do you write daily or when you feel inspired? Do your story ideas come from your imagination or from real life experiences?  

I write daily when I’m working on a book. I try to find time to get in a chapter or two amidst having 4 high school boys and a full-time staff of family working to give books away to whoever asks. My stories always come from something in real life. A real-life conversation or some scene plays out in front of me and suddenly I have tears in my eyes. When real life makes me feel such strong emotion, I know there’s a story there somewhere. The real-life moment might be only enough for a title or a single line in the book. But it’s a spark, and very soon that spark becomes an entire fictional novel.

7. Is basketball as important in your life as it is in Nolan’s? If not, what is your “basketball”—the thing that makes you most inspired, most passionate?  

Basketball has at times certainly been high on the list. My husband has coached varsity basketball for twenty-four years. This is the first season when he has taken any time away from the sport. During various seasons we would be consumed with basketball. Don would talk to me about who was coming up to high-school age, and who was trying out. Then at tryouts our conversations were consumed with who was excelling and who wasn’t panning out, who was a surprise. During the season I was my husband’s chief scorekeeper. We have our own system where I know innately when he needs information – how many timeouts he has left, who’s in foul trouble on our team or the opposing team. Yes, it’s been all-consuming at times. Now I’d say that thing is simply family. Seeing our boys through high school and helping them find their path to faith and success.

8. The Chance, like many of your novels, focuses on family relationships. As the mother of six children, can you describe the importance of family in your life? Why do you think it took eleven years for the Tucker family to mend their problems?  

People have a way of compartmentalizing their hurts. If something’s broken, it’s often easier to assume it’s not fixable than to go the miles – in the Tucker family’s case, literally – to see if there is something worth saving. Family is everything to us, and no, I can’t imagine going eleven1 minutes with things broken. We catch ourselves at home, and have a talk or a meeting about how we’re doing, how we’re connecting as a family.

9. Do you agree that in the end, The Chance is ultimately about the power of forgiveness? Would you name forgiveness as the major theme of the novel?  

Yes, forgiveness is the theme that runs throughout. The damage when forgiveness doesn’t happen, and the beauty when it does.

10. Who are you reading now? What is next for you as a writer?  

I’m about to read Mitch Albom’s book Time Keeper. My son just read it, so it’s on my list. I love how he writes. For me as a writer, I’m working on Fifteen Minutes now, and very soon I’ll start with Chasing Sunsets. Both books are stand-alones and are two of the most significant books I’ve ever written. Very excited for my readers to get these books in their hands! But I will say …The Chance has stayed with me. It’ll go down as one of my all-time favorites for sure.
Photograph © Dean Dixon

Karen Kingsbury, #1 New York Times bestselling novelist, is America’s favorite inspirational storyteller, with more than twenty-five million copies of her award-winning books in print. Her last dozen titles have topped bestseller lists and many of her novels are under development as major motion pictures. Her Baxter Family books are being developed into a TV series slated to debut soon. Karen is also an adjunct professor of writing at Liberty University. She and her husband, Donald, live in Tennessee near their children and grandchildren.

"Another weeper from Christian-fiction diva Kingsbury, this time featuring a prayerful NBA star and his long-lost first love."

– Kirkus Reviews

"In The Chance, Kingsbury (The Bridge, 2012) delivers another excellent novel filled with heart, adventure, and second chances. . . . Kingsbury is one of the most dependable names in inspirational fiction, and The Chance may be her best yet. She infuses such real emotion into her characters, readers will find themselves in tears multiple times throughout the novel. A beautiful balance of human fragility and the power of God’s grace makes this is a must-read."

– Booklist

"At age 15, Ellie finds her world turned upside down when her parents separate and her father moves them from Georgia to California. A devastated Ellie and her best friend, Nolan, write letters to each other and bury them beneath an oak tree. The two agree that in 11 years, no matter what surprises life brings, they will return and dig up the letters together. VERDICT Reminiscent of Nicholas Spark's The Notebook and Richard Paul Evan's The Walk, Kingsbury's (Coming Home) latest novel offers her characters forgiveness and love without an expiration date. Her many fans, and readers who like to escape their daily cares with a gentle Christian romance with elements of women's fiction, will enjoy the reappearances of Molly and Ryan, familiar characters from The Bridge, as well as a likable cast of fresh protagonists."

– Library Journal

Kingsbury knows how to get down to business; readers start worrying from the opening sentence about 15-year-old Ellie Tucker and her family: "Her mom didn't come home for dinner, the third time that week." Family troubles prompt Ellie's abrupt move from Georgia to California, but before that happens she and her best friend Nolan write letters to one another that they bury and agree to unearth in 11 years. During that time, Ellie and Nolan naturally change, their paths diverging; he becomes an NBA star, she a single mother. Reckoning with loss and forgiveness for bad choices are required for healing. Kingsbury's themes are familiar, and her writing has benefited from a change of publisher. The action clips along, and readers root for the main characters. The fan-fic element of her writing remains— there's not only an NBA star but another celebrity affecting the action. But the author pours a fervent message about love and reconciliation into a novel that makes the lesson of hope go down much more easily than it would via sermon.

– Publishers Weekly

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