Monday, August 10, 2020

Yes No Maybe So, by Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed

A topical story of two awkward teens who meet while canvassing for a long-shot Democratic campaign in a traditionally conservative Atlanta district (a fictionalization of the 2016 Ossoff race).  Jamie is a great organizer but terrified of public speaking.  He has no problem stuffing envelopes and doing what he can around the field office, but can't ever imagine himself knocking on doors to get out the vote.  Maya is struggling with finding her bearings as her family breaks  apart.  Her father has moved out. He and her Mom claim that they are taking advantage of Ramadan to reflect, but as things drag on, it seems that the separation might become permanent. Maya's mother suggests volunteering on the campaign to get Maya out of the house and Maya finds herself paired up with Jamie.

Through a summer of working on the campaign, Jamie and Maya discover a lot about the world.  Maya quickly finds that this campaign is about bigger issues than simply her guy winning.  The legislature is considering a ban on head coverings, which she sees as a blatant attempt to discriminate against Muslims.  As a Jew, Jamie imagines that he understands what it is like to experience prejudice but as they engage in politics, he finds out how little he has experienced to date.

While the book addresses a number of key topics about contemporary elections (the role of social media, public polling, the purpose of focused convassing, and acts of dog whistling and of gaslighting), this is a surprisingly superficial story.  Conversations occasionally turn to racism and cancel culture, but the authors make almost everyone sympathetic and shy away from deep discussions.  A farcical anti-semitic attack sends confusing messages.  The overall tone is light and the book seems more targeted towards middle schoolers.  That proves disappointing for a book so centrally focused on politics.  I get that the agenda is to stir some interest in contemporary politics, but the book is too superficial to achieve much.

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