Thirteen-year-old Dale Melnyk finds himself stuck in an iron lung, desperately fighting for breath — and wishing he could die. It is the worst outbreak of polio in the history of Winnipeg, and D
Thirteen-year-old Dale Melnyk finds himself stuck in an iron lung, desperately fighting for breath — and wishing he could die. It is the worst outbreak of polio in the history of Winnipeg, and Dale is one of the many young victims being treated in the early 1950s. Second Chances follows Dale's slow and often agonizing struggle to regain his life, first of all to breathe on his own and then to regain the use of his limbs. Will he ever be able to play hockey again, he wonders? Dale comes to realize that he is doing better than a number of the other patients including Charlene, a young Métis girl confined to a wheelchair but always trying to help their fellow patients.
When Dale discovers his younger brother Brent is also in the polio ward because their father rejected the school program vaccine, a confrontation with his father becomes inevitable. Brent is not getting better and will be dealing with paralysis indefinitely.
When Dale finally emerges from his recovery he must reassess what is most important in life — a life that has been changed forever.
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Is an author and former teacher-librarian who writes for CM: Review of Materials and The Winnipeg Free Press. Harriet lives in Winnipeg.
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Second Chances tells the story of a 14-year-old boy whose NHL dreams are dashed when he is stricken with polio during the epidemics of the 1950s. I was a child at that time, when there were two scourges in society. The first was polio, a disease that left thousands of children paralyzed and hundreds dead. I was motivated to write the novel because anti-vaxxers spread misinformation about vaccines and deny the terrible consequences of childhood diseases, frightening some parents into not protecting their children.
The parallels that arose during the coronavirus pandemic are striking, with conspiracy theorists and desperate politicians disavowing science and promulgating lies about Covid-19, at the cost of many lives. Vaccines put an end to polio epidemics, but the second scourge of systemic racism continues today, and I saw the opportunity to raise the issue of racism in Canada by including a girl of Métis origin whose family life is threatened by discrimination.
Second Chances will appeal to kids 12+ who might also like The Golden Age, by Joan London, about two teens whose lives become intertwined when they meet on a polio ward, and April Raintree by Beatrice Mosonier, a heartbreaking story that represents what has happened to many First Nations, Metis and Inuit children in Canada.
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Second Chances recalls the tragic polio epidemics of the 1950s, just as a life-saving vaccine was developed. A teenage hockey star paralyzed by the disease meets a girl in hospital, worried that her family and Metis community are threatened by racist attitudes of the city, which wants their land.