Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

In response to the Black Lives Matter protests, President Barack Obama wrote"So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both."

As a follow up to the BLM protests, hand The Voting Booth to your woke teen. Brandy Colbert's new YA novel educates young readers about the importance of voting, the obstacles facing first-time voters, and the racist policies and attitudes that undermine American democracy.

Colbert sweetens the lesson in civic responsibility with a cute romance. Straight-A Marva has been waiting her whole life for her first Election Day. She volunteered to register voters and arrived early to the polls before school. To honor his activist brother, Duke had also arrived early to vote, but the polling station doesn't have a record of his registration and his band is playing its first paid gig after school.

When Marva sees Duke turned away from the polls, she offers to help him make sure his vote gets counted. There are many obstacles: a runaway cat, driving while black, ballot shortages, a jealous boyfriend (Alex), truancy calls to parents. Marva and Duke team up to beat the odds and to find her Instagram-famous cat. 

Brandy Colbert, author photo by Jessie Weinberg

At times this topical novel reads a bit like a textbook:
Marva: "Well, it's June nineteenth. Enslaved people in Texas didn't find out until two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation that they were free. Not until 1865. So black people celebrate it every year, and it's recognized by almost every state in the country, even though a lot of people don't know about it." 

Unlike a textbook, the white boyfriend's insensitive response shows why this lesson is important:
Alex: "Yeah, but what's the point of two separate holidays? I don't care if you're black, white, blue, or green - we're all American, right?"

When Marva flags his color-blind world view as ignorant and Alex argues with her instead of apologizing, his grandmother demonstrate how to be a good ally: "It would do you some good to listen instead of getting defensive next time."

Seeing political lessons played out in everyday life will help teens relate to these important issues. Most of the book is fast paced to keep even reluctant readers turning the pages. It's marvelous to have a diverse book with middle class black and biracial characters, who are not victims but empowered agents of change. If they make the effort to vote!

Mainers: remember to vote in our primary Tuesday July 14th
or drop off your absentee ballot at your town office tomorrow.
Maine allows you to register in person at the polls.
I've been volunteering for Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon
who is running for the Democratic nomination 
to challenge Senator Susan Collins in November.