Imagine you buy a lottery ticket for your best friend’s birthday and then he wins the big jackpot. That’s what happens to Alice in Windfall. She buys a lottery ticket for her best friend Teddy’s 18th birthday and suddenly he is flying to Mexico for Spring Break, buying a ridiculous red sports car, and surrounded by hangers-on, including the father that abandoned him years ago.

Alice does not like change. It has never been good. First her mother died, then her father. For the past nine years she has lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, a loving, welcoming family, but all the love in the world does not make up for losing her parents. Change is coming to her, too. It’s her senior year and she has to decide where to go to school. Change is scary and Teddy is changing far too fast.

I liked the first two-thirds of Windfall  quite a bit. Alice is wiser than her years. She speaks up for herself and challenges Teddy’s silliness. Her relationship with her aunt, uncle, and cousin is close, loving, and honest. These are mostly good people. Even Teddy is a good person when he gets a moment to think, but who would not be unbalanced by being handed $56 million before high school graduation?

What disappointed me was the pabulum ideas of pay it forward and random acts of kindness. Yes, these are good things, but this is nothing new. It’s a borrowed idea. That’s disappointing and reinforces the idea that individual acts of kindness supplant institutional support at a scale that can help thousands. Alice has a thought that pushes back at that idea, but it does little to counter the other message.

Here’s the problem with this message. Individual acts of charity will never achieve the scale needed to deal with the problems and needs in our society. They are also not morally superior and foster the idea of “deserving poor” versus all the rest who can just starve because they don’t light up our hearts and we don’t get to feel warm and fuzzy inside seeing their reaction. If you need the warm and fuzzy feeling, you’re doing therapy, not charity.

There is real wisdom when this book deals with the subject of grief, of what family means, and who and what make a home. I wish that wisdom had extended further.

So yes, Windfall is a sweet book, but the message is shallow and unworthy of Alice, who is a far too interesting young woman to be satisfied with something that vapid.

I was provided an advance review copy of Windfall by the publisher through Shelf Awareness.

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