Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith
Published by Delacorte Press on May 2, 2017
Genres: [Young Adult] Contemporary
Format: ARC, paperback
3.5 Stars, Completed March 22, 2017
– minor SPOILERS ahead –
a piece of unexpected good fortune, typically one that involves receiving a large amount of money.
Alice doesn’t believe in luck and especially not after she experienced the worst kind when she lost her parents nine years ago. But as a joke she decides to buy a lottery ticket as an eighteenth birthday present for her best friend that she has secretly loved for years, Teddy. To their utter disbelief, he wins $140 million and, suddenly, everything changes. Teddy’s newfound wealth will put an unexpected strain on their friendship; their once effortless understanding and dependence of one another after having grown up in tough circumstances together dissipates completely as they argue more and more. Thus, the money begins to feel more like a curse than a windfall. As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice will discover more about herself and what she wants from life in moments she least expects.
…this money is going to turn our lives into a snow globe, tipping the world upside down and shaking everything inside it. It’s going to change everything. And to me there’s nothing scarier.
Windfall is probably one of the more refreshing contemporaries out there.
As I’ve gotten older and the age gap between me and YA heroines have increased, I’ve found contemporary books to often be massive misses given that it’s become gradually difficult for me to connect or relate with the younger characters. And I’m not a reader that grabs for realistic fiction often to begin with, but when I do I expect a story that is at least more interesting than my own life and that there are also meaningful messages inlaid throughout. Luckily, I thought Windfall deserved perfect marks towards my simple rubric.
Family, friendship, belonging, and identity are the central themes in Windfall despite the romantic synopsis.
“Have you guys ever heard the expression be cool?” I ask, unable to keep from laughing at the two of them with their noses pressed to the window.
“He’s never been cool a day in his life,” Aunt Sofia says.
Uncle Jake frowns. “Neither has she.”
I absolutely adored the family dynamic and the acceptance and love Uncle Jake and Aunt Sofia have for Alice. Through their actions and their dialogue, readers can sense the overwhelming support they have for their niece and that they truly view Alice as their own daughter. It’s rare to find such model guardian figures in YA lit let alone ones that actually make several appearances and don’t disappear after one scene.
I also love that the main friendship is actually between three people. Because I think many can relate to having multiple best friends in comparison to a single one (as how most books seem to suggest). The bond between Alice, Leo, and Teddy is so closeknit that it’s obvious that the easy company they share goes beyond the fact that they’ve known each other for years. Also, it should be noted that Alice is a girl and her best friends are both guys, which is so awesome.
These types of friendships are not exhibited enough. (Though, what could have made things more interesting is if Teddy wasn’t a love interest. Don’t get me wrong, the friends into something more is my absolute favorite romantic trope but it would be unique if a boy and a girl could be just friends without one of them having a crush on the other or that the only reason why they don’t fall for each other is because one is homosexual. I digress… But, really, I do want to witness this kind of storyline someday. Authors, please hear my plea.)
Of course, there is still some romance. Early on, I assumed I had it all figured out on who was to suffer from unrequited love, but really I totally guessed the wrong victim. There is a happy ending that does appear a bit forced (seeing as I kind of strongly dislike Teddy), but this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a HEA for everyone. It makes me sad to see that Sawyer, a totally amiable guy, is the one that carries out the unrequited love storyline alone in the end. I’m also disappointed that readers get no closure about Alice and his arc of the story aside from one line in the final chapter.
“Here’s the thing you have to remember,” Leo says. “If you give a tiger a cupcake, you can’t be annoyed with him for eating it.”
In spite of myself, I laugh. “Why would you give a tiger a cupcake?”
“Why not?” he asks with a shrug.
But the problem is this: I’m not annoyed with Teddy for eating the cupcake.
I’m annoyed with myself for giving it to him in the first place.
As much as I don’t like Teddy’s character I do think the way he reacts to his sudden wealth to be realistic for “the youngest lottery winner in history.” His impulsive (borderline infuriating) behavior is how I imagined an eighteen year old boy would respond to winning such a large sum of money out of nowhere-particularly for a young fellow that has been so familiar with financial misfortunes during his childhood. However, his personality before winning also annoyed me. (I’m always wary of those that open or look at the presents before they do greeting cards and letters; it just seems so inappropriate and out of order to me.)
From the beginning I didn’t find Teddy charming, and by the end I still couldn’t understand what Alice saw in him. He does change for the better towards the conclusion, but after reading 300+ pages about a character with an unlikable personality 25 pages dedicated to his “goodness” and change of heart is not enough to make me view him differently.
But, thankfully, with Teddy’s character and rash personality, there aren’t many conflicts that lead to unnecessary drama. Actually, I like that this book focuses on other aspects of high school life that other novels normally don’t. Windfall doesn’t dwell on what happens in high school literally (like the petty drama and gossip) but alternately picks up on the emotional struggles a young adult may have about graduation (finally completing secondary school), separation (moving away from family and friends), and rebirth (beginning a new chapter of his/her life).
“We have all sorts of words that could describe us. But we get to choose which ones are most important.”
So Windfall‘s biggest merit is how Jennifer E. Smith is able to realistically capture a challenging period that many young adults face without making the teenage relationships appear shallow and including angsty high school drama. Also, I think it’s common for people to question the idea of where they belong and who they are at eighteen (and at many more points for the rest of their lives). Therefore I’m relieved that this was brought up several times in Windfall. Also, any book that mentions Harry Potter is a cool book. I love pop references; how Smith incorporates a beloved series in such a fitting and creative way is praiseworthy.
To end this long review, clearly, there was so much that I enjoyed about this one. Like how it only touches on the romance and focuses on the characters and their development throughout the novel instead. However, why I chose to rate it so (if you hadn’t already guessed) is because of Teddy. Also, though readers get a small update on the entire cast-both significant and side characters-I feel slighted by how little closure we get with Sawyer. It would have put me more at ease to know if he had earned some happiness (or at least made up with Alice and remained friends with her).
Anyway, Jennifer E. Smith’s latest release is about loss, luck, and love and certainly one that Smith fans should not miss out on. For me, Windfall isn’t a perfect read but it’s a smart and refreshing piece that does stand out among other YA contemporaries.
Guest review contributed by Xingsings. This blogger strongly believes in interaction in the book community. She puts out bookish memes, reviews, and themed articles. Beware of falling words and large imaginations.