You May Already Be A Winner

Twelve-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)