A down-at-the-heels sweepstakes entrant discovers she’s had good luck all along.
Twelve-year-old white Olivia enters lotteries and contests hoping for a big payoff; maybe her family can leave their trailer park. Dad’s gone, Mom’s overworked, money’s tight. Olivia has more responsibilities than a kid should. She frequently misses school to watch over her 5-year-old sister, Berkeley, because day care is unaffordable; she’s their de facto teacher; and she does all household chores. She vents, but in a first-person, present-tense voice that’s distinct, colorful, richly imaginative, thoroughly authentic, often hilarious, and frequently heartbreaking. Readers will easily be drawn into Olivia’s experiences, sometimes-bizarre daydreams, and daily disappointments, and they will admire her resilience and fierce devotion to family. Though Olivia doesn’t credit it immediately, her neighbors are devoted to her too, not least quirky, white schoolmate Bart, self-proclaimed FBI agent, who becomes her steadfast friend. Meanwhile, neighbors are preparing to launch a first-ever community circus, an idea Olivia casually mentioned to give Berkeley something fun to contemplate—but never actually expected would materialize. A turning point when Olivia’s ordered to return to school and must secretly stow Berkeley strains credulity but is suspenseful and triggers an emotional, satisfying climax. Ellis develops her supporting cast with nuance and increases readers’ investment in Olivia with such details as her heartbreakingly one-sided correspondence to her father.
Readers of this memorable novel will feel like winners, too. (Fiction. 8-12)