Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Let luck find you.
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 open 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.
All right, first off: I received an Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) of this book as part of my participation in a blog tour hosted by Book Freak Revelations – this, however, neither affects my opinion nor the content of my review in any way. So much love for JM and the wonderful people from Penguin Random House for the opportunity!
Approximately fifteen minutes before beginning this review, I suddenly realized that I’m actually the last stop of this tour. (Pressured? Me? Absolutely not.) With that in mind, I’ll try to keep this one interesting, insightful and meaningful.
Windfall is my first novel from Jennifer E. Smith, a very popular contemporary author who first caught my attention years ago with her other novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. I set a pretty high set of expectations prior to reading this, but ultimately, in the end, Windfall swept me away and left a hurricane of mixed feelings brewing inside of me.
For one thing, with a title defined by the dictionary as “a piece of unexpected good fortune”, Windfall’s plot was fairly and generally predictable. The book had very few surprising revelations and even sparser twists scattered around its narrative. Even so, I’ve always believed that just as how unpredictability does not guarantee a good read (Exhibit A: Allegiant by Veronica Roth), predictability does not necessarily equate to an awful reading experience either. In fact, I still managed to enjoy this story.
I’d like to highlight a particular element: Alice’s character development, which was, to me, the most pleasant surprise in Windfall. Throughout the story, Alice is an enigma as she simultaneously isolated herself from the people who love her and immersed herself in volunteer work, generously giving her time to strangers without a second thought. Alice’s lack of faith forced her character to remain excruciatingly withdrawn, but her desire to preserve her parents’ legacy pushed her to actively engage in charity and volunteering. Alice is such a profoundly complicated, painfully conflicted character with a doubtful voice but a hopeful heart, and while there are aspects in her personality that I could really identify with, there are equally many sides of her that I desperately wanted to understand.
Her character growth in Windfall is so evenly-paced and thoughtfully delivered. In the beginning, Alice established so many barriers to protect herself but as the story progressed, these frozen strongholds gradually thawed, and so did my heart.
Despite my fondness for Alice, it’s Leo who completely won me over. His side story, albeit brief and vague, kept me interested and longing for more. I am definitely, definitely hoping that Leo’s own story will grace the bookshelves of every bookstore someday. Another character I particularly adored is Sawyer. Sawyer is a wonderfully fascinating mix of sweetheart and history geek! I am mildly disappointed that he did not have a lot of moments in the story.
Unfortunately, as much as I liked the other characters, I cannot say the same about Teddy, the actual love interest. In fact, I’d even go as far as to proclaim that I hated Teddy. It’s not only because of his annoying personality but also because, fortune or no fortune, he just isn’t an interesting character at all. He’s shallow, short-sighted and poorly developed. While I completely understand that Teddy’s turning point for the worse (e.g. becoming unreasonably extravagant and increasingly selfish) was inevitable, when he finally decided to change for the better, nothing he did was enough to win my favor. Probably because he never had any favors from me to begin with (since I disliked him even before he won the lottery).
If I could get rid of the romance entirely and just concentrate on Alice’s internal struggles, I would willingly do so in half a heartbeat. Aside from the fact that Teddy failed at redeeming himself (at least in my opinion), the chemistry he had with Alice was virtually nonexistent, and at times, felt forced. Plus, I was never fully convinced that Alice really loved him. I’d label her feelings as infatuation, to be honest. (Come to think of it, yeah, let’s go with infatuation. This opens the possibility that if the story was extended further into the future, Alice would eventually understand the true nature of her feelings, lose interest in Teddy altogether, and realize that the right guy for her is Sawyer. Yep, okay, I am protecting this ship.)
Teddy aside, the bulk of Windfall had me emotionally reeling, and that’s primarily because of the dynamic family relationships in the story. I can’t really articulate my thoughts on this aspect, but it’s a story element I thoroughly enjoyed reading about.
Overall, I might not have completely loved the book, but I would still recommend Windfall. This contemporary novel explores grief in a way that’s deliberately thorough and painfully realistic. Many scenes in Windfall definitely hit close to home. Smith writes so beautifully that when she tackles delicate topics like family and healing, she is effortlessly able to induce emotions that just bleed through the pages.
Excerpt from the book:
“So she’s not an orphan, then?”
There was a short pause, then Aunt Sofia cleared her throat. “Tell me this,” she said. “When you think of Harry, what’s the first word that comes to mind?”
Leo’s answer arrived right away. “Wizard.”
“Exactly. So he’s an orphan and a wizard. Both things are true, right?”
“Well, that’s how it is for all of us. We have all sorts of words that could describe us. But we get to choose which ones are most important.”
Leo paused to consider this. “So Alice could be a wizard too?”
“I suppose it’s possible,” Aunt Sofia said, laughing softly. “But maybe it’ll be something else entirely, some other word we don’t know about just yet.”
“That,” she said, “is up to Alice.”