An Oklahoma teen turns her poker prowess into a source of income then finds it exacts a price.
Chelsea, a small child when her mother left, lives with her amiably negligent father, whose job doesn’t cover expenses. Chelsea negotiates payment with creditors, shops at Goodwill, and searches available (minimum-wage) jobs, while oblivious classmates brandish designer accessories. Her best friend lends her money, but Chelsea’s tired of being the needy one. Desperation sends her to a Cherokee Nation casino, where she uses a fake name and, passing for 18, staves off insolvency playing poker. Soon she’s a regular. Gambling exhilaration energizes her—likewise Nate, the hot casino employee who asks her out. Winning funds a major shopping spree; losing means pawning her father’s gun. Lying further fuels the adrenaline rush. Keeping her identities separate is complicated; avoiding exposure demands lies to cover lies. Outside the casino, her world seems drab to readers and to Chelsea herself. Too little’s at stake—which is precisely the point. Only at the poker table, where players read one another, lay bets, and risk what they can’t afford to lose, do they feel fully alive, and it’s their closely observed sessions that bring the novel to suspenseful life. The way Chelsea objectifies her fellow players (Red Head Lady, Cute Mafia Guy, Asian guy) makes it clear that both Chelsea and the novel’s default are white.
A sly, insightful close-up of risk-taking’s seductive, addictive appeal. (Fiction.14-18)