“What if I won the lottery?” Has that thought ever crossed your mind, even in passing? For several years, fellow teachers chipped in a few dollars whenever the lottery reached a substantial number, a number so hefty that even split among 40, it would alter lives. I participated only after the pool had been in play for awhile, when a friend joked that the building would be empty tomorrow if their numbers hit. I thought about that and decided. No, we didn’t win, or should I say, they haven’t won—yet.
The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) gives all who attend its conference, a workshop following the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual convention, a box of books. For book lovers, it’s like Christmas-come-early, new releases, yet-to-be releases, soon-to-be-favorite new authors. I’ve met Ned Vizini and John Green there, Gabrielle Zevin and Sherman Alexie, Chris Crutcher and A.S. King, and most recently the meteor and his mentor Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson. I’ve been lucky!
When I reach the bottom of this year’s box, I discover Windfall, a book by Jennifer E. Smith, an author I don’t know. I pick it up, place it on my nightstand, and there it sits, for weeks. I have so much to read…until I don’t, so I pick it up. Jennifer, I love your book. We’re urged not to pigeon-hole books, “that’s for girls,” so when Jenny Han and Stephanie Perkins, both female-audience stars write blurbs on the book jacket about “first love,(“the reason I almost didn’t read it, thinking, “not again”) I know this novel is fated not to reach a wide male audience. What a shame!
When my son was an eighth grader, he read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, his rationale? “I gotta understand these girls, mom. I’m gonna date ’em, ya know?” and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. When he finished it, he brought me the copy I’d lent him from my classroom library and said, “Every eighth grader should read this, mom. Can you make that happen?”
In Windfall Alice, a high school senior, newly eighteen herself, purchases her first lottery ticket for her best friend’s eighteenth birthday, and as luck would have it, this one’s a 141 million dollar winner. The ticket is a lark for Alice, but as the consequences unfold, she says,”…I’m the one who put it all in motion, for better or for worse.” Yes, there’s a love story here, but at its heart it’s bigger, family, friends, and most importantly, our way of being in a relationship with the world. I wish the publishers had promoted it differently.
In an article I read this morning, a judge in New Hampshire has ruled that “the winner of a $560 million Powerball jackpot — one of the largest prizes in United States history — can remain anonymous.” His decision hinged on the revelation of her name being an invasion of privacy. Her lawyer says, “…that his client was now reflecting on how best to use her windfall to benefit others. She has already donated a combined $250,000 to Girls Inc. of New Hampshire, an empowerment group for girls, and three chapters of End 68 Hours of Hunger, which provides meals for schoolchildren during the weekends.”
The word “windfall” inspires me to write this, crossing my fingers and hoping that some teacher, some mom, shares Smith’s novel, that someone takes a chance.