Rico knows even more than her mother about how to make ends meet.
Grocery shopping happens strictly from a list that relies mainly on store brands. Most of her wardrobe is from Goodwill or off-price retailers. And she’s resigned to working most days at a convenience store because she knows the extra pay is crucial to supplement what her single mom makes as a Hilton housekeeper.
A teenager can dream, though. So when she sells a handful of lottery tickets on Christmas Eve, she imagines all the things she could do with that money. And when it turns out that two of the winning tickets came from her Gas ’n’ Go, she goes even further.
In “Jackpot” (Crown/Random House, $17.99), Nic Stone plumbs the thorny topics of wealth and class through Rico, a high school senior who’s wise beyond her years because she has to be. Stone, whose debut, “Dear Martin,” was a New York Times bestseller and “Odd One Out” was named one of NPR’s best books of the year, knows how to marry issues and storytelling in a way that’s compelling instead of preachy.
So when Rico conscripts fellow senior and reported genius hacker Zan to help her decode security footage from the night she sold the winning tickets, the two start a relationship both informed and hampered by their respective backgrounds.
Rico sees Zan as little more than a convenient (and kind of cute) tool to achieve her goals. His father owns his own business, he drives a tricked-out Jeep and he lives in a McMansion in suburban Atlanta. She’s both resentful and incredulous at his privilege. She can’t believe it when he tells her he won’t be going to college next year.
“’So where were the offers from?’ Rico pushes when Zan dances around the topic. ’Can’t be that bad.’
“He sighs. ‘Duke, Stanford and Notre Dame.’ …
“‘And you’re not going?’
“‘Nope.’ He shrugs. ‘College isn’t for everyone, you know.’ …
“(H)e doesn’t sound convinced, but I decide not to push. Especially since I’m (uncontrollably) crunchy now. To have all that presented to you on a diamond-encrusted platinum platter for the taking and you just … decide not to? Seems so wasteful.”
Zan’s backstory is more complicated than Rico realizes, though, and how the two find common ground as they hunt for the winning ticket holder is a refreshing departure from the typical “opposites attract” teen romance scenario. These two are clearly attracted to each other, but their frank discussions of parental and societal expectations around success and money resonate.
Yet while the issues at hand are serious, Stone doesn’t shy away from some welcome humor. She intersperses chapters narrated from the perspective of key bits of paper — money, wish lists, and even the missing lottery ticket: “It’s not easy being an inanimate object worth enough American dollars to feed a family of six in Chad for over forty thousand years. … Right now, that dastardly George Washington has his ugly green face smashed against mine, and there’s a month-old Chick-Fil-A receipt pressed against my behind without my consent.”
She also doesn’t shy away from hope. Though “Jackpot” at times is heartbreaking in the trials Rico must endure, ultimately it rewards both its teenage protagonist and the reader with a path forward. (Ages 14 and older)
The book festival season may be over, but authors continue to stream through Austin this month. Standouts include Austin’s Cate Berry (“Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don’t Do Bedtime!”), who makes it fun to count forward and backward with her new picture book “Chicken Break” (Feiwel and Friends, $17.99). She’ll be at BookPeople at 2 p.m. Nov. 3. … “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid” author Jeff Kinney will be in Austin on Nov. 5 to celebrate the 14th title in that series, “Wrecking Ball.” BookPeople, the Leander Independent School District and Hill Country Bible Church have put together this event, 6 p.m. Nov. 5, Hill Country Bible Church, 12124 RM 620 N. Go to bookpeople.com to get your ticket, which is the cost of a book. ... Jon Klassen’s trio of “Hat” books, including the Caldecott-winning “This Is Not My Hat,” comprise the new hardback boxed set “Jon Klassen’s Hat Box” (Candlewick, $49.99), which also includes a frameable print. Klassen comes to BookPeople at 6 p.m. Nov. 5. ... Netflix’s reboot of “Queer Eye” won accolades for its empowering discussions along with its makeovers. The show’s culture expert, Karamo Brown, keeps the inspiration coming in a new picture book, “I Am Perfectly Designed” (Holt, $18.99). Written with his son Jason “Rachel” Brown, the book celebrates different kinds of families, underscoring the theme of being perfect just the way you are. Both Browns will be at BookPeople at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 7. … All events are free, but you must buy a book at the store in order to get it signed. Visit bookpeople.com/event for more information.
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