Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am waffling on a 3-4 star rating. Maybe 3.5? IDK. I’m just going to go with 3 for now.

Background: I have a very personal connection to the lottery. First of all, my parents have owned a grocery store for 40 years. When I was a child, we were brought on board as lottery vendors and I was able to attend some of the training with my family to learn how to use the machines. Operating that machine on weekends and watching people who have nothing spend so much of their fixed income on a hope and chance has been my anthropological study my entire life. Secondly, two people in my very extended family have won the lottery, decades apart from one another. One divided their pot among 9 total winners and the other one was a single winner. I was not beneficiary of, nor involved personally in any of these winnings, but, that, combined with my knowledge of lottery games and study of the players, has made me a lottery enthusiast for years. Do people act differently when they win? What do they do with all that money? As a result of this decades-old interest, Windfall’s premise immediately caught my attention.

One of the first things that struck me were the similarities between Alice and Teddy’s childhoods–there was trauma and drama in significantly different ways. Alice, an orphan, was adopted by her aunt and uncle. Teddy’s father, a compulsive gambler, left the family in dire straights in one weekend and never came back. These circumstances gave these characters plenty to overcome and round them out. I loved these parallel themes between the two main characters.

“But it makes Leo different from me. He’s one of the lucky ones. He still lives in a world where the ground beneath his feet is sold. Teddy and I, on the other hand, have grown up in quicksand and though we’re there for different reasons and though we rarely talk about it, something about that simple fact has always bound us together.”

Smith created amazingly robust and carefully rounded supporting characters as well. I loved the development of Leo, Alice’s cousin, her Aunt and Uncle and Teddy’s mother in the story. These characters were as present as they needed to be and played off the unfolding events so well. Smith even carefully crafts the story of Alice’s deceased parents and gives you a full picture of their personalities and their impact on Alice’s first 9 years of life without being too heavy-handed or falling into too much exposition or monologues. By the end of the novel, I cared deeply for all of Smith’s characters.

“All I’ve ever really wished for is this: family and friends, safety and love, the sun streaming through the window on a Saturday morning. Just this.”

Finally, I really enjoyed the themes of this book and the manner in which they were explored. It wasn’t just about family and friendships and how money can change relationships. Generosity, both financially and of spirit, were explored and a multitude of ways: from how Teddy spend his money, to his changing vision of his future. From Alice struggling with her feelings about Teddy, to reconciling her college dreams and the perceived expectations from her deceased parents, I loved the depth to which this book tacked grief, college and the notion of family.

A little bit The Sky Is Everywhere combined with touches of I’ll Meet You There, this was a very interesting premise executed very well.

The things I didn’t like will be hidden due to spoilers. Don’t worry, it’s only one point five things, but it knocked a full star off this review.

The first 1/2 item will not even count if you don’t listen to the audiobook: I did not like the audiobook narrator. I had a very difficult time with her when she narrated the male voices because she would lower her voice a few octaves and ended up sounding like a child imitating a male’s voice. It would have been just fine (and less hysterical in parts) if she had just read all the parts in her normal voice.

SPOILER AHEAD

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I couldn’t stand Teddy and I could not understand Alice’s obsession with him. To me, it was totally unbelievable that Alice, who volunteers regularly and takes her studies so seriously, would pine for someone who is so thoroughly self-involved before AND after the win. Like, how did she endure YEARS waiting for him and WHY? Ultimately, that WHY is the reason I couldn’t get behind them as a couple, ESPECIALLY in light of the fact that the perfectly adorable Sawyer who shows up during her volunteer work. I couldn’t believe she put the very promising Sawyer aside for someone who began acting more and more idiotic post-lottery win. I was NOT team Teddy at any point in this book. I would have preferred Alice end up with no one than with Teddy.

~Carmen

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