Rico Danger has a name straight out of an explosive action movie, but her life is hurtling off a cliff in ways that are all too ordinary. Overstretched at her job at a gas station to try and keep a roof over her family’s heads, she’s perpetually one crisis away from the edge. The “good” school her mom insists she attend is unlikely to lead to college afterward, and friends are in short supply because she’s hard-wired to keep people at arm’s length. So when a customer at the gas station buys what might be a winning lottery ticket, it sets a whole new life in motion for Rico. But is a Jackpot really the answer to all her problems?
Nic Stone (Dear Martin) structures Jackpot like a romance with a twist of mystery—Rico enlists rich kid Zan to help her track down the ticket holder, and their shared quest leads to mutual attraction—but it has so much more going on underneath its surface. Although Rico’s circumstances are difficult, her attitude doesn’t help; she isolates potential allies by assuming the worst about them as a defense mechanism. Stone writes some chapters from the perspectives of inanimate objects (the winning ticket, a wood stove, some high thread count sheets, etc.), which offers a glimpse beyond Rico’s tight focus and also adds some surreal charm.
When a medical crisis sends her family into deeper debt than they could have imagined, Rico throws her already flexible morals aside and makes a risky final attempt to get the winning ticket, but fate has a twist in store. There’s a happy ending of sorts, but it’s not one readers will see coming.
Jackpot is a high school romance (senior prom receives its due) and also a kind of fairy tale (for all her complaining about thrift-store clothes, Rico still manages to end up in the perfect dress for any occasion). But Jackpot tells other stories, too, about how we judge one another based on race and class, and the ways those most in need sometimes cut themselves off from help that’s hiding in plain sight.