Growing up in Kenya, politics, both local and international, was something everyone talked about. Whether old men gathered around radios, tvs, or with newspapers in hand, women gabbing about politics while chopping vegetables for the evening meals in the communal spaces, or kids parroting their parents views on the playground, it was a hot topic of conversation. It mattered not what socio economic group you belonged to, you were expected to know about, and be able to talk about what was happening around you.
So imagine my utter disbelief when I set foot in America for ninth grade, and talking politics was both considered uncool by my peers and rude by the adults. It seemed that everyone around me couldn’t be bothered with the big picture. They couldn’t even fathom it’s existence. So it has been an utter delight to me to see how young teens are taking up the charge today. It is of course disheartening that they feel the need to HAVE TO do this, but nevertheless, I do believe an informed and active citizen is necessary for a vigorous democracy to thrive.
Enter Marva Sheridan, the young Black heroine of The Voting Booth, who will tell you that some people don’t have the luxury of not being involved. The novel is set on Election Day, in an unnamed year, although the issues discussed throughout might give you a clue as to where Colbert’s mind is. Marva is so excited to be voting in her first election. For the past two years, she has been canvassing, registering voters, and even getting her beloved cat to encourage civic participation on Instagram. Her parents, while proud, wonder if Marva is a little too intense.
You see, Marva has been interested in politics since she was 7, when she summarily informed her teacher that she wanted to become either Secretary of State, an environmental attorney, or a Supreme Court Justice.
So she feels duty bound to help when she overhears Duke Crenshaw, a young, biracial fellow-first-time voter, being turned away at the polls. Assuming this is some kind of voter suppression, Marva springs into action. Duke, while politically informed, is not quite as obsessed with politics as Marva. His intent is to vote and then spend the day mentally gearing up for his band’s first paid gig. He remembers that he might have registered with his father’s address, and Marva somehow decides to make it her mission to get Duke to the polls.
The story centers around Marva and Duke getting to know each other as they drive back and forth between polling places trying to get Duke to cast his vote, to and from Marva’s house trying to find her lost celebrity cat, and even a short jaunt to the beach. Both characters are smart, opinionated, and are clearly used to holding their own, making for delightful conversations. Through the day we learn that Marva is conflicted about her White boyfriend who has been pulling away, and now has decided that he will not vote in a corrupt two-party system. Duke on the other hand is dealing with the expectations of his parents after the loss of his idealistic and much more politically active brother, Julian.
The book does not skirt around the big issues of our day. In a heart-stopping moment, Marva and Duke get pulled over. Julian’s words when he gave 7 year-old Duke, “the talk” ring through Duke’s head. Marva mentally goes through the instructions her parents have given her. Everyone’s advice: how to attempt to survive an encounter with the police. Duke has been in the car a few times when his brother has been pulled over. He muses out loud about many more times he’ll “be so lucky,” referring to the fact that “some people don’t make it out of a ‘routine traffic stop.’” Both kids are clearly rattled. Marva notes that this is why she is so intense about the election even though she acknowledges that it doesn’t solve everything.
This book is light and heavy all at once. In a way it is a perfect read for these tumultuous times. We need more Marvas and Dukes. We need to inspire the next generation of Zyahna Bryants, Thandiwe Abdullahs, and Nupol Kiazolus. It is a lovely book about two smart, witty, engaged Black teens falling in love on Election Day. What could be more hopeful than that?
The Voting Booth
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
My thanks to Disney-Hyperion for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.
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