Teresa Richards, The Windfall App
reviewed by Alison McBain
The Windfall App
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Date: July 27, 2018
I met Teresa Richards a few years ago, shortly before her first book was to be published: a YA fairy tale retelling called Emerald Bound. While I enjoyed reading her first novel, I was intrigued to hear that she was working on a new book about a half-Asian teen growing up in the Bay Area. Once upon a time as a half-Asian teen growing up in the Bay Area, I was especially thrilled to hear that it had a main character my long-ago teenage self could identify with.
Many stories I’ve read have main characters who come from either one culture or another, and they often don’t navigate the in-between areas of our multi-ethnic and diverse world. Or if they do, the stories sometimes treat it as the be-all and end-all of the narrative: diversity for the sake of diversity. Where I come from, it was just another aspect of growing up, and this is how The Windfall App treats Marina’s background. Her mother is Chinese, her father American, and she’s caught in the middle between both of their expectations.
In addition to my own personal enjoyment of the setup, this is a book that has all the elements of a really fun story. It starts out with some common YA premises: Marina’s at the end of her senior year, trying to get into colleges, win academic competitions, hang out with her best friends and avoid her frenemies. And then it turns into a gripping adventure novel with plenty of mystery and suspense, romance and betrayal, and a close look at the importance of family and friends.
The story starts out with Marina in a private prep school in San Francisco. She and her best friend, Darya, have bought tickets in the new Windfall lottery to celebrate Marina’s eighteenth birthday, and when the numbers are announced via phone app, Marina discovers she’s won the big prize.
Her dad’s business has tanked after he parted ways with his billionaire business partner last year, so Marina thinks the news of her winning tons of money will be good for her family. But instead, her dad is upset; it turns out her grandfather was a compulsive gambler, so her dad abhors the lottery. He wants her to refuse the win, but Marina needs the money so she can go to Julliard in the fall. When her dad tells her she has to listen to him as long as she lives under his roof, she decides on the spur of the moment to move out.
But when Marina walks out of her home with only a duffel bag, this puts her in a bind. She doesn’t yet have the lottery money; it takes time to process the paperwork. And she doesn’t have much cash. So she heads to a motel to stay for a couple weeks until she gets her first payout check. On the way there, she gets a mysterious text from a strange number congratulating her on her win and saying that the texter is her “fairy godmother.” She’s so distracted she barely manages to hop onto her cable car to her motel, but a stranger helps her, a cute guy a couple years older than her. He introduces himself as Sean, just moved to the city. But she gets off before they can do more than trade first names.
After getting a lawyer to help her with the lottery payment, Marina receives another text from her “fairy godmother.” In addition to the creep factor, she’s curious: who would be keeping tabs on her?
In addition to her “fairy godmother,” Marina starts receiving texts and calls from STI, the company running the lottery. They try to pressure her to accept their financial services and suggest she ignore the advice of her lawyer, but she refuses to deal with them. Despite this, they continue to harass her with texts and phone calls.
At the press conference announcing her win, the mystery starts to deepen when she anonymously receives a photograph from twenty years ago. The picture shows her dad and his ex-business partner, in addition to Marcus Roland, the head of STI, all posed together. She had no idea they all knew each other so long ago, and it brings up the question: how lucky was she to win the lottery run by someone her dad used to know?
The story takes more twists and turns from this point onwards, but I won’t spoil it for readers. It’s an up and down ride nearly from the first page to the last, incorporating teenage rebellion seamlessly into criminal enterprises that threaten the foundations of the characters’ lives. Marina is a personable character caught up in a crazy scheme that drops her in the middle of spies, fraud, mysterious strangers, and life-threatening stakes. Who is helping her and who is out to get her? The story culminates in an edge-of-your-seat confrontation between Marina and the bad guys.
I always find myself engrossed with Ms. Richards’ writing; she has an eminently readable style, packed full of humor and voice in the narrative and dialogue. She creates 3-D characters who aren’t perfect, but have a number of flaws that make them likeable and easy to identify with. Her teenagers are written like teenagers, not like miniature adults. And the storyline held my interest, with a fun and adventure-filled plot, great description and a realistic setting. I grew up in the Bay Area, and the level of detail thrown into the background feels very complete.
While it might not be as nostalgic a ride for other readers as it was for me, I hope you enjoy reading The Windfall App as much as I did. I’d definitely recommend it to YA fans.
Copyright © 2018 by Alison McBain