I’ve never read a series so unrelated to its main premise. This is the first book in a series following three women after they win the lottery. The win is surprisingly incidental to the actual stories. In essence, what this series attempts to ask is this – if your financial difficulties, your debt, your worries about saving for retirement, the financial needs of people you support, if it all went away, what choices would you make? How would you live differently than you do now? Because spoiler alert, money doesn’t solve every problem.
Plot: In this book, we follow Kit, a materials scientist working as a lab tech in a small town where she wants to settle. She is rather brilliant, and as a result has been getting recruited by all kinds of companies to do corporate science. Enter Ben, who works as a recruiter for a company that wants Kit, and only Kit, to work for them. He happens to be in town because he’s taking care of his dad after a fall, and is asked to recruit her. She loves her job and her town and has no interest in a corporate gig and he desperately needs her to accept to jump start the next part of his career. Shenanigans ensue.
This book is absolutely lovely. I don’t think it is quite as strong as the second in the series, which I read out of order because that’s how library lending works. But it is excellent, it’s just that the second is very excellent. If you moved around a lot as a kid, you will find Kit’s obsession with stability and home resonate pretty intensely. At one point in the book she talks about how badly she wants to be considered a “local” that knows everyone and can offer recommendations on local business and it hit me right in my feel bones.
Clayborn does an amazing job of making every character she creates feel real. Kit is a scientist and while I am not, I am friends with many academics and to listen to Kit complain about tenure applications and funding structures and funding sources tainting research rang absolutely true to me. Clayborn manages to make it feel like she has both first hand experience with spending one’s entire childhood moving from one place to the next and feeling unmoored, while also feeling trapped by the place you grew up in, where everyone knows every mistake you’ve ever made.
Side characters, as with other Clayborn books, are also fully realized. An underlying theme of Clayborn’s books seem to be that we are very quick to judge people based on very little information. There’s Ben’s parents, who split when he was young. He has a lot of resentment towards his mother, who by all accounts is a woman who replaced a husband that owns a salvage yard with a fancy lawyer who could buy her all the jewelry and Botox her heart desires, and who has no real interest in her own son. But she isn’t quite as simple as all that. There’s Ben’s father, who by all accounts has been working to play nice with his ex-wife and her new husband while locking himself away from the world in his shop, but this too is a far too superficial view of him. There’s Sharon, Ben’s neighbour, who hides a gentle and loving heart under gruff affection in a way you rarely get to see in female characters. There’s Dr. Singh, Kit’s mentor and boss, who at first glance is a kind and generous boss who is in fact hiding a titanium spine behind his soft demeanor. There are, of course, our three heroines, each of which choose to hide their lottery winnings (and with good reason, it’s crazy how common it is to get murdered over it), and who are hiding, even from their best friends, the real thing they want to achieve with their windfall.
Each of these people clearly have a story to tell all their own, and the fact that Clayborn was able to convey that without taking away from the main plot is a testament to her skill as a writer.
This tension between what we show the world and who we really are is at the root of this book. The characters all care about each other and make it as plain as they can. They try to be as upfront as they can. Any misunderstandings that arise over the course of the story are the sort of misunderstandings that happen in real life to people trying their best to communicate but being limited by conflicting loyalties, timing issues, not wanting to burden others, and the knowledge of how to express what they think. This book is about flawed but earnest people doing their best to figure out what happiness means to them and working towards getting it.