YOU MAY ALREADY BE A WINNER, by Ann Dee Ellis, Dial Books, July 11, 2017, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 10-14)
In 2009, I read Ann Dee Ellis’ Everything is Fine. I remember it being good, but not much more. Last summer, I read Ellis’ The End or Something Like It, and it absolutely gutted me. A week ago, I read her latest novel, You May Already Be a Winner, and I couldn’t put it down.
While the first two books listed above are YA, You May Already Be a Winner marks Ellis’ middle-grade debut. And what a debut it is.
You May Already Be a Winner is a story of dreams, of imagination and resiliency. At the center of the novel is 12-year-old Olivia Hales. Olivia spends her days entering contests — at least 10 each day.
Olivia is sure that if she wins $1 million all her family’s problems will be solved. With the money, Olivia and her sister, Berkeley, and even her mom can move out of Sunny Pines Trailer Park. If she won, maybe her dad would come back, too.
Having yet to win the mother load, Olivia keeps plugging away at her entries, writing letters to her dad — even though he’s never written back — and taking care of Berkeley. Mom can’t afford daycare, so Olivia stays home from school and makes sure her little sister knows the important stuff.
But Olivia can’t stay away from school forever. When the time comes that she must return, she’s asked to go above and beyond what any 12-year-old should have to do. Olivia’s spent so much time taking care of everyone and everything that when she needs to take care of herself, she doesn’t know where to turn. Luckily for Olivia, sometimes help is right behind you.
You May Already Be A Winner is an excellent study of family dynamics, where the child becomes the parent when the real parent can’t see beyond the very basic of necessities.
I grew up living under the poverty level, but there was always some kind of support system around us. There were times, however, when one of my brothers was sick, and my mom had to leave me in charge of my younger brother. During the worst of times, this could happen a couple times a week. Even though I always knew I could call someone, the enormity of the responsibility was not lost on me.
It’s with these life experiences in mind that I read You May Already Be a Winner, and I couldn’t help but feel grateful for my situation rather than being in Olivia’s.
My heart broke for Olivia as she struggled under the weight of the world, but it also soared with her small victories, with her friendships, with her heart.
In You May Already Be a Winner Ann Dee Ellis has created a relatable young protagonist that calls out to be loved for her bravery and creativity. Ellis’ mixes humor with an authenticity you can’t just make up. Her prose is at once warm and welcoming and her story brims with optimism despite a heavier subject. This is one book I will read again and again.
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