The Second Chance Store
By Lauren Bravo
Avon; paperback, 448 pages; $19.99
Lauren Bravo is an author and award-winning freelance journalist who writes about fashion, popular culture, food, travel, and feminism for publications including The Telegraph, The Guardian, and Refinery29. She has authored two nonfiction books, What Would the Spice Girls Do?, and How to Break Up with Fast Fashion, which was inspired by her year-long fast-fashion ban.
The Second Chance Store is Bravo's first novel, and she received inspiration for it from her volunteer work once a week at her local Crisis UK charity shop.
This is a perfect summer read, as it is a light, heartwarming story about second chances, finding yourself, and building a new life. If trinkets and clothes at a thrift store can find a new life with a new owner, people can find a new life, a second chance.
There are plenty of stories to be found in everyday items, and it is a testament to the enduring power and joy of charity shops. This novel is a tale of friendship, loss, being true to oneself no matter the expectations.
Gwen is a city-dweller who is living a second-hand life, a thirty-eight-year old who is perpetually single and in need of a dentist appointment. Her friends are busy with their babies in the country, while conversations with her parents tend to revolve around hedge funds and when the trash gets picked up, and that only enhances her loneliness.
Then, Gwen is let go from a job she drifted into a decade ago and never left, which leads her to realize it's time for her to make a change. This begins with cleaning out her apartment, which leads her to the charity shop.
As she is literally and metaphorically unloading her baggage, Gwen encounters a group of weird and wonderful people devoted to finding a new home for donated items that have lost their use elsewhere. She volunteers there herself, and finds a new joy in the untold stories of second-hand things. It leads her to ultimately address the events and choices that brought her to this point, and provides a path to move forward with bravery and humanity.
The story is told in a conventional way, but interspersed within it are vignettes of items Gwen comes across at the store and the meaning behind them. This gives it a relatability because, who hasn't stumbled upon stuff and thought of the story behind it?
In this excerpt, Bravo writes of Gwen's thoughts in a segment titled Slippers: "Why does anyone take hotel slippers?
Either you're a slipper person, which means you own slippers, probably better ones, already - or you are not a slipper person, which means the very idea of shuffling about your own home like an escapee from Champneys probably makes you gag a little. Either way, you're not going to wear those slippers.
You know you're not. You would be embarrassed if anyone came to the front door while you had them on. It would be like wearing a sign that said: 'I stayed in a hotel once!!! Did I mention?'
And yet, you take them home. Of course you do, because there they are - all fresh and virginal, two fat white slices of pseudo-luxury in crinkly cellophane wrapping. Just trying to do their job, which is to make you feel special and also help justify the room charge. You take them home for the same reason you take the fleecy blanket from the airplane and the calendar from the Chinese takeaway and the tiny pen, once upon a time, from Argos. Because it's not often this world gives you anything for free, so when it does you might as well take it.
Only, the slippers transubstantiate in your suitcase, and by the time you're taking them out at the other end they're no longer pseudo-luxurious but actively annoying. Just another thing, another bundle of atoms and space dust to find room for in an overstuffed cupboard.
'Why did I take these slippers?' you ask yourself, chuckling fondly at the you of several hours ago. But even as you toss them into a drawer or put them in the bag for the charity shop (at least you resealed the cellophane, you reason, the more resealable now), you know you'll take the next pair, and the next. If you're lucky enough to have a next.
Because who are you, to turn down free slippers? What if life never gets better than free slippers? Free slippers! Imagine."