Book Review: Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

Windfall Jennifer E. Smith

If you won the lottery, what would you do? Jennifer E. Smith dives into that question—among many other big life ones—in her new young adult book, Windfall.

Alice, orphaned at 9, grew up in Chicago with her Uncle Jack (her father’s brother), Aunt Sofia, and cousin Leo, who is the same age as Alice. Teddy, Leo’s best friend, also became Alice’s as they grew up together. Teddy was raised by a single mother—his father had a terrible gambling habit that emptied their savings account—in a one bedroom apartment, always struggling to make end’s meat.

Now, Alice, Leo, and Teddy are a tight-knit trio of high school seniors. For Teddy’s eighteenth birthday, Alice buys him a Powerball lotto ticket. Against all odds, it is one of three winning tickets.

While the plot of Windfall is fairly predictable, the characters are engaging, and the themes it explores are ones that are expansive and thought-provoking. Alice is a constant do-gooder. Both her parents were a part of the Peace Corps so Alice spends much of her free time volunteering…whether or not that is something she is doing for them or for herself is one of the questions Alice must answer as the novel progresses and she struggles to reconcile her past with her parents and her future without them. As it is so beautifully put:

“Sometimes, it feels like time is malleable, like the past refuses to stay put and you end up dragging it around with you whether you like it or not. Other times it feels about as ancient and far away as those castles. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. There’s a space between forgetting and moving on, and it’s not easy to find.”

She also has recently realized that she is in love with Teddy. Leo has a boyfriend—his first love—who is a freshman in college. He must decide if he wants to go to the Art Institute of Chicago for college, like he’s always dreamed, or follow Max to Michigan. Teddy is charming, friendly, and unsure he even wants to go to college, partly because of money. When Teddy wins the lottery, he tries to split the $140 million with Alice, but she refuses, too afraid of how it will change things. And, of course, it does change things.

Windfall does a wonderful job of diving into the idea that life is not fair or equal, but how you choose to act is what matters. Another theme that all three teens discover is that you have to choose your own path; you will be a lot happier if you do what you want to do for yourself rather than what you think others want for you. Finally, one of the most universal themes in YA literature is winningly demonstrated in Windfall: learning to embrace change and the unknown that the future holds.


Windfall has been optioned for film by Lauren Graham.


Taraneh has been happily living in NYC for over a decade, but originally hails from the Midwest. Enamored with books at a young age, she grew up making stories, playing make believe, and loving the musical and performing arts. She is great at binge-watching TV shows. Some current favorites: Schitt's Creek, A Court of Mist & Fury, Prince Harry, and The Magicians.

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