A hard-hitting story about love and money.
Rico Dongur doesn’t have a normal life for a 17-year-old. While others are concentrating on their social life and making college plans, Rico’s focus is on surviving at school whilst working every spare hour in a gas station to help her mum pay the bills. Any time beyond that is spent looking after her nine-year-old brother, Jax. However, when she sells the jackpot winning lottery ticket on Christmas Eve and it looks like no-one’s going to claim the money, she resolves to somehow find the time to locate the winner. There’s just one problem – she needs someone to help her hack into the gas station’s CCTV and the only person who might be able to do that is classmate, Zan. Not only is his family as rich as Rico’s is poor, he’s also handsome, popular and, it transpires, quite enamoured with Rico. His interest in her adds a whole new dimension to their quest to find the Jackpot winner but it also turns her life upside down.
I have mixed views of this book. I love Nic Stone’s writing and enjoyed the effective characterisation. It’s also refreshing to find a YA book with such a diverse range of characters. However, there were also a few niggles that slightly marred my enjoyment.
The first is in the opening chapters. Rico has saved up to buy Santa’s gifts (Minecraft Lego and a BMX) for her brother for Christmas. Jax is delighted and declares, despite his previous doubts, “Santa DOES give a flip about me!” I know this is supposed to demonstrate both their poverty and the sacrifices that Rico is prepared to make for her brother. However, I found it just plain irritating: sorry no nine-year-old still believes in Santa Claus!
There are also a series of random scenes written from the perspective of inanimate objects, including a lottery ticket, a taxi, Egyptian cotton-sheets, and a waffle-house saltshaker. While I assume these are intended to give us an insight into the characters (and it does work to do this), I personally found them rather strange.
Having looked at the negatives, the characterisation is incredibly strong. I particularly liked the quirky supporting characters – Rico’s boss, regular customer “Mr Fifty” (because he always pays with a fifty-dollar bill) and the girl next door, Jessica. Rico’s Mum is also particularly well realised and the strained relationship and tensions between her and Rico are especially effective.
The plot is strong, particularly the climax involving Jax. There’s also an interesting twist in the quest to find the owner of the ticket. Admittedly, I did work this out before the big revelation. However, it is entirely possible that this is the intention of the author.
Overall, this is not quite as good as Nic Stone’s last book, Odd One Out, but it is an enjoyable read and is likely to be enthusiastically embraced by this best-selling author’s fans.
Date: October 2019
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s
Author’s website: Nic Stone