The Big Door Prize tackles the existential question "Why would you think there's another life for you, perhaps another possibility inside of you already...?" M.O. Walsh (My Sunshine Away) crafts a surprising and heartwarming contemporary drama about looking back and looking forward. A machine, DNAMIX, shows up in a small Louisiana town to reveal "your potential in life, what your body and mind are capable of doing." Walsh clearly understands the tendency for middle-aged people to look in the rearview mirror and second-guess their choices.
Cherilyn's DNAMIX readout is "Royalty," and she immediately believes the machine sees behind her housewife exterior. Her husband, Douglas, for his part, is reluctant to use the machine. The whole procedure seems laughable, but even so, he acknowledges that he, too, has "hit a wall in his life" and that it's time to "make big-picture changes."
Juxtaposed with adult angst is a sympathetic portrait of the prospects for contemporary teenagers in a world not of their making. Jacob, a high-schooler, grapples with life after the accidental death of his popular twin brother, Toby. Jacob doesn't need a machine to foresee that his future looks desolate. His mother died young, his father is acting like a cowboy after his DNAMIX reading, and there are unsettling rumors about the night of Toby's death.
Because each "choice we make today is an extension of, and an opportunity arisen from, the choices we have previously made and will make in the future," readers of this singular, nuanced story will, quite possibly and without a machine as prompt, undertake their own personal reflection. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.