You May Already Be A Winner

YMABAW 207x300 - You May Already Be A WinnerTwelve-year-old Olivia knows that luck is real. That’s why she is counting on luck to bring her a million dollars. Preferably by hot-air-balloon so that she and her little sister, Berkeley, can move away from dumb old Sunny Pines Trailer Park. So that she can go to school and not stay home to watch Berkeley because they can’t afford day care. So that her mom doesn’t have to work all the time and be tired, so tired, too tired to put Berkeley to bed or cook dinner or be a mom at all.

And since Dad isn’t responding to Olivia’s letters, she has to take matters into her own hands. This means entering fourteen sweepstakes a day. This means pretending to be a super-secret spy to make a new friend. And this means somehow planning a circus spectacular, right here in Sunny Pines, so that Berk can have something good to look forward to.

So what if Olivia’s hard work isn’t appreciated. So what if no one is taking care of her the way she is taking care of EVERYTHING. So. What.

Because luck IS real. And Olivia may already be a winner. She just doesn’t know it yet.







A down-at-the-heels sweepstakes entrant discovers she’s had good luck all along.

Twelve-year-old white Olivia enters lotteries and contests hoping for a big payoff; maybe her family can leave their trailer park. Dad’s gone, Mom’s overworked, money’s tight. Olivia has more responsibilities than a kid should. She frequently misses school to watch over her 5-year-old sister, Berkeley, because day care is unaffordable; she’s their de facto teacher; and she does all household chores. She vents, but in a first-person, present-tense voice that’s distinct, colorful, richly imaginative, thoroughly authentic, often hilarious, and frequently heartbreaking. Readers will easily be drawn into Olivia’s experiences, sometimes-bizarre daydreams, and daily disappointments, and they will admire her resilience and fierce devotion to family. Though Olivia doesn’t credit it immediately, her neighbors are devoted to her too, not least quirky, white schoolmate Bart, self-proclaimed FBI agent, who becomes her steadfast friend. Meanwhile, neighbors are preparing to launch a first-ever community circus, an idea Olivia casually mentioned to give Berkeley something fun to contemplate—but never actually expected would materialize. A turning point when Olivia’s ordered to return to school and must secretly stow Berkeley strains credulity but is suspenseful and triggers an emotional, satisfying climax. Ellis develops her supporting cast with nuance and increases readers’ investment in Olivia with such details as her heartbreakingly one-sided correspondence to her father.

Readers of this memorable novel will feel like winners, too. (Fiction. 8-12)


School Library Connection Review


For Olivia Hales and her little sister Berkeley, their neighbor’s abandoned trampoline was a place of comfort where they could dream of having exciting family adventures that would take them away from Sunny Pines Trailer Park. Olivia knows that they need money to make that happen, so she enters every contest she can find on the internet, believing that she will be lucky enough to win at least one. In spite of her optimism, Olivia must face the fact that her parents are split and things are not looking very bright. Olivia demonstrates her bravery and commitment to her family by taking responsibility the best way she can. Even though sometimes it means pretending to be a super-secret spy to win over a new friend or promising her sister that she is planning to put on a circus at the trailer park. Middle school readers will be drawn to Olivia’s independence, and her resilience when faced with troubling situations both in school and out. Her devotion to her family will resonate with readers. Sheila Acosta, Children’s Librarian, Cody Public Library, San Antonio, Texas




Olivia is a sensitive, imaginative, and self-reliant 12-year-old who lives with her frazzled and depressed mother and little sister, Berkeley, in a mobile home park in Utah. Her father is no longer in the picture, and when Olivia isn’t staying home from school to take care of Berkeley, she’s preparing meals and combing the Internet to find sweepstakes and contests to enter to help her family. Eventually, she has to go back to school, and when Berkeley’s cough keeps her from attending day care, she smuggles her sister into school—a stopgap solution that falls apart. At her core, though, Olivia not only believes in luck, she believes that she can create her luck, and, miraculously, she does. Olivia’s first-person narrative fills brief, expressive chapters where she mixes fantasy and real life at will, all in a lyrical, poetic voice. Ellis realistically taps into the kind of magical thinking so typical of kids trying to solve big problems, and plenty of readers might recognize themselves in the appealingly optimistic, daydreaming Olivia.
— Donna Scanlon