Reviewed by Alisha Churbe

Dan Berne’s The Gods of Second Chances is truly extraordinary.  From the description, you may not be intrigued by a story set in Alaska and formed around a grandfather, who is single handedly raising his granddaughter and is a fisherman by trade. But you would be wrong about this book and you would miss out on all it has packed within its pages.

Family circumstances have left Ray, a widower, with no other choice than to raise his granddaughter on his own.  Ray lost his wife years before when their granddaughter, Sitka, was just a baby. They’d been fighting for the sobriety of Jenny, their daughter, and years later Ray still seems to feel unresolved about his wife’s death. Their daughter left just as her mom’s ashes were scattered in to the sea.

Ray is also a fisherman whose job takes him into dangerous waters but pays to make ends meet and for unexpected repairs, setbacks, and mistakes. Although this job is challenging and frustrating, just as his family is at times, Ray tends to focus more on his business woes to avoid confronting those with his daughter.  Ray’s life is ordinary, as ordinary as it can be, until one day his once-strung-out, drug-addicted daughter writes him of her return to his life and the life of her daughter’s many years after her departure and supposedly three years of sobriety. He’s skeptical. Not even the ad-libbed prayers of his best friend and rituals performed on a regular basis are enough to fix the problems Jenny brings upon her return from prison. Jenny’s been unreliable and destructive in the past. His main focus is his Sitka’s safety and well-being. Jenny’s return brings danger and uncertainty to Ray’s home. But can he actually turn away when his daughter needs protection?

The novel is quiet but textured with emotions and themes. The characters will touch your soul and remind you that family life is never easy, nor is it ever what it may seem.  Berne’s characters are lively and likable. They make mistakes and rally through them. In the novel, Ray learns that family issues are rarely black-and-white; he also learns the hard truth that there are two sides to every story, and both could easily be the true version of past events. Berne relates a family like no other but with familiarity to everyone.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Forest Avenue Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.