Two days after its book birthday, I’m posting about Ann Dee Ellis’ newest middle grade You May Already Be a Winner. I had wanted to post last week when I read it on a sunny day in the backyard in my camp chair, but never got around to it. But now that it’s available, I must so that all can purchase, read, and enjoy Ellis’ work from Dial Books an imprint of Penguin Books.
The book is focused on character development in a beautifully heart-wrenching way, so our memorable character is actually the main character, Olivia, a middle schooler who has had adulthood thrust upon her. In charge of the social, emotional, and academic well-being of her younger sister, it’s been weeks since Olivia has been to school herself. But when the school threatens action against her mother for Olivia’s truancy, Olivia is sent back to school, with her small sister in tow. Rather than call attention to their issue, Olivia thinks she can hide her in a closet. To say that Olivia is overwhelmed with adult issues is an understatement made more complicated by an intriguing boy who shows up one day and the question of where her father actually is and whether he’s coming back.
This pressure is perfectly summed up in the later stages as the weight of it all begins to be too much with one of the many memorable quotes: “In that moment I felt exhausted. But mad. But exhausted.” This pressure continues and comes a head at school when her little sister is discovered and mom is called– forced to share the details of what’s been happening at home.
None of my descriptions so far have shared the tone of the book which is of quiet desperation. As adult readers, we’re forced to tears, knowing what Olivia needs but is not getting. As middle grade readers, students will see themselves or their friends who struggle with overwhelmingly adult responsibilities and empathize. So when Olivia finally can’t hold it in any longer (Go, Olivia!) I was secretly cheering her frustration to adults, specifically a staff member at school.
“‘I understand you are having some home issues.’ I say, ‘I understand you have bad hair.’
He laughs. I don’t laugh.
Olivia needs love and her childhood and instead gets parents who are trying to make the right decisions for themselves and ultimately their children but are not turning out that way. She’s angry when she finds out her mother is only a few doors away in their trailer park. She’s angry that her father won’t commit to coming back to the family. She’s angry that the boy she was falling for ratted her family out to the school.
And while I’m not one to enjoy happier endings, this one did and therefore I could not completely fall in love with the book from start to finish, though I appreciated its intended audience’s need for hopefulness. It is provided.
With a lovely cover that encapsulates the book, a rough and necessary story of a girl in need of her childhood, I advise middle grade and high school students to read it since the topics of family and perseverance never get old. You’ll already be a winner if you decide to pick this one up to read.