Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith
Published: May 2017
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.
At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.
As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined…and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect.
Alice, Teddy, and Leo are attached to one another, united by hardships and varying perceptions of luck. When Alice, who has crushed on Teddy for ages, purchases a lottery ticket for Teddy’s birthday, and Teddy wins, she immediately worries about all that would change in the dynamics of their group. Teddy’s newfound wealth touches everyone in ways Alice didn’t think was possible, and soon she and Leo are grappling to bring Teddy back to reality.
It’s been some time since I enjoyed a Smith book, and it’s clear she poured her heart and soul into this one. The writing is beautiful, and Alice’s internal monologues are deeply felt. She lost both of her parents before she was ten, moved in with her cousin Leo, and has tried to live up to the image she believes her parents would be proud of: giving back to others, doing good in the community, making the world a better place. But is she doing this for the idea of them, for herself, or for others?
Toss in the struggles every teenager faces in high school — college applications, choosing the right school, seeking approval from your peers, experiencing first love and heartbreak — and Alice has a full plate. Teddy has always been the athlete, utilizing the use-them-and-drop-them method with girlfriends, not the best in school but not terrible, just an all-around gregarious sort of guy. Alice lets his behavior slide (before, during, and after the lottery win) because she knows a lot of it stems from his father leaving the family and wracking up debt.
But this doesn’t excuse the romance. I was not pleased with it whatsoever, and I’m not sure if it’s because I felt a personal connection to it and know that in hindsight this is terrible for Alice, or if I’m an adult reader and can see 20/20. I’ll come out and say it: it was frustrating and agonizing to watch. The ending for these two upset me, as I felt Alice could really grow (and grow apart) and be given wings separate from Teddy.
The message of this novel was poignant and clear and something I could root for. What would you do if you won the lottery? What would you do if you won millions and millions of dollars overnight? Some people know exactly what they’d do with money, others freeze at the thought. There’s no right or wrong way about it. It’s a lot of responsibility, and can come as a burden, too. I especially enjoyed how Alice grappled with change — good and bad, pertaining to the lottery or just to choosing a college — struggling to make decisions best for her rather than what others thought. She had a lot of internal wrestling going on, and working that out with her was a pleasure. Smith executed this really well.
Though the romance thread wasn’t for me, the writing, heart, concept, and execution of this novel blew me away. The importance of family and growing up — and growing into one’s identity — was beautiful. What a unique and compelling read!
Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Delacorte for review.