The Book of Chance by Sue Whiting (Walker Books, 2020) has mystery, mayhem, a dog or two. What more could I ask for? No murder, sadly, but something kind of just as bad. All of it 10-12 years old friendly. Also, shortlisted for the CBCA Book of The Year Younger Readers 2021.

“I needed a dog that knew how to forge ahead and not look back.”

This is a clever story about secrets and lies and what makes a lie. Is lying to protect someone ok? Does a white lie matter? Is a secret a lie of omission? What’s the level of consequences a person who lies should experience? Is it ever ok to lie?

“Wondering if anyone ever told the whole truth. Maybe being truthful was really just a big lie.”

Chance is a very reliable narrator and hates lies. During the book she finds out a lot of people are lying to her. Two in particular: one life changing and one online from her friend.

Chance’s story starts at a police station, so you know something pretty bad has gone down. Foster care is being organised for Chance and her Mama is being questioned by police.

“I have no idea what is real and what is not anymore, so I’m probably not the best person to ask. Perhaps I should just tell them that.”

The rest of the book is a countdown to that day. It’s a clever device and really ratchets up the tension. In between chapters are extracts from “The Book of Chance” which her Mama made over the years about Chance growing up. Written for Chance by her mother so they can remember her childhood. There’s also a “Book of Steve” about her father who died before she was born.

37 Days Ago starts with a reality TV show (more lies?) filmed at Chance’s house. Part of the house and yard gets a makeover to thank Chance’s mum for being a great mother, an advocate for refugees and all-round good person. Of course, this is a secret from the recipient until the big reveal.

The show researcher asks Chance for background on Chance’s Mama and “The Book of Chance” comes up and what happened to her Dad. Amos the researcher tells Chance something that starts a chain of events leading to a mystery and Chance discovering her family life is not quite what it seems.

“Things had changed in a way that no one could have ever expected – and I ached with regret.”

While Chance finds out more, mostly more questions than answers, there’s a concurrent storyline about online bullying. Chance’s friend Sarah posted a lie on Instagram and when she’s found out, there’s a deluge of abuse from the girls at her school. The teachers make everyone who posted a comment attend Digital Citizenship detention at lunchtimes over a few weeks.

“How were you supposed to do all the things that you were meant to do when you were in pieces?”

Chance’s home life is falling apart and she acts out at school and during the detentions. The students are supposedly learning how to be kind online, but Chance questions everything. At one point she says if Sarah hadn’t lied, none of the this would have happened.

Both storylines deal with lies and secrets and is Social Media (and reality TV) all one big lie? The book could be used in class discussions around cyber-bullying, social media and the curated life we present online.

The families of Chance and her best friend Alek highlight diversity in family units. Both don’t have a dad for different reasons. They live next door and are basically one big family, with added cousins etc when Alek’s relatives visit. The Dengs are refugees from South Sudan who are now Australian citizens. Chance’s mother met them years ago when newly arrived in Australia.

“It was what I had wanted for days. So why did it feel as if a thousand birds were taking flight inside my chest?”

There’s a lot going on, but none of it superfluous. Many aspects could be used in class: online life and social media, what makes a family, refugees’ lives in Australia. The fast paced mystery will keep 10-12 year-olds glued to the page.