Review (Plus): ‘You May Already Be a Winner’

Bookshelf Blurb: If only hitting ‘send’ on a virtual contest would mean winning, but in a world of ‘Walter Mitty’ type daydreams this is the only hope Olivia Hales has while living in Sunny Pines Trailer Park with an MIA dad and a mother who works yet can’t afford daycare, making Olivia hide her sister in a janitor’s closet in the middle school–totally embarrassing.

Ms. America’s Review:

Olivia Hales’ Merry-Maids-uniform-wearing mother is screaming at her to get out of the pool and help her find her sister, but Olivia is lost in a daydream. She can escape all of her loser moments because She May Already Be a Winner. Ann Dee Ellis has created a realistic world of middle school angst in her debut middle grade novel.

Olivia is stuck in the Sunny Pines Trailer Park watching her youngest sister, doing the laundry, making dinner, and trying to keep up with school while her mother goes to work every day. Her father has left the family and is living in Bryce Canyon working as some type of forest ranger, or so we conclude from daily emails Olivia sends him. Olivia wants to go back to school as she fondly watches her neighbor leave for school every day, but she knows she must be responsible for her sister and even her mom.

One morning Olivia is told by her mother that she must return to school. The truancy office has sent a notice. Olivia has missed half of the year and is behind in all of her class work. Her teachers try to reach out to her, but she is used to being independent, and she fears they are merely judging her and her family. Making matters worse her five year old sister who adores her manages to get kicked out of daycare, and Olivia is forced to offer her mother help again. She will take her sister to middle school and hide her in a janitor’s closet. When one afternoon during passing period she goes to check on her sister and give her a snack to her horror she discovers her sister is gone.

Olivia tries to maintain hope and dignity throughout the book. She is unaware of her mother’s choices, but refuses to let her mom shoulder them by herself. Her unfailing devotion to her family made me want so much more for Olivia than her parents were providing. I want to foster every Olivia out there. Olivia is a strong person and one who I kept hoping would finally become a winner. You May Already Be a Winner is a powerful book for those of us who have Olivias in our lives and want to help both the child and the parent.

In the classroom:

Like many students I have encountered through my years in the classroom, Olivia is a person I admire. Her undying hope is a mystery to me, even as my heart was breaking for this lovely young lady. She is the silent student in the classroom who has too many burdens to bear at home to do her homework. Students like Olivia have hope because sometimes that is all they have to hold on to.

As a teaching tool I would take an excerpt from this book, making students read it and decipher its “deeper meaning.” I especially liked when Olivia’s male teacher tried to relate to her and she became rude and mouthy to him. She even goes so far as to comment on his hair. She wasn’t like this throughout the book. Why is she lashing out at this teacher who is trying to help her and offer an escape?

You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis (Dial Books | 9781101993859 | July 11, 2017)

America Grelinger

America Grelinger doesn’t mind if you call her Ms. America. It makes her head swell and she loves the title. America is a former English teacher and has a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, now retired to raise two crazy little boys who think the funniest thing on the planet is to burp and toot… which is why she reads. Because it’s cheaper than counseling. Amy and her husband live with those two crazy little boys in Derby, Kansas.