Saturday, June 21, 2008

Freshman for President by Ally Condie (DW)

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was hooked on a book I'd been asked to review, and it's high time I went and did it:

Freshman for President
by Ally Condie is a great book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I read it in about two large gulps on back-to-back nights (plus some snatches while cooking dinner, going to the bathroom, or anywhere else I could get away with). Even when I did put it down to get some work done, I found myself wondering about her intriguing characters throughout the day. It's been a long time since I was that hooked on a book. ... Thank you.

I'll admit, I was nervous when I started. I was worried I was about to enter some strange land where we'd forgotten about the Constitution, or that it was a great crusade of teenagers to show grown-ups that they could fix everything wrong with the world. (The Eragon movie left a bad taste in my mouth because of that). This is neither, and Ally was very nice to put my mind at ease early on in the book.

The male lead, Milo Wright, decides it's high time to get out of the shadow of his very talented, popular friends and do something memorable so that the other kids at school will know his name. When the school cancels student elections [don't worry, this is the first 10 pages, I'm not spoiling anything], he decides to run for President of the United States as a write in candidate in order to "say something," with the help of his friends: running mate and best friend Eden, security guy and lawn mowing business partner Jack, and fourth-wheel Paige. His college-age sister is also a major character.

Condie touches on a lot of issues in a sensitive, thoughtful way. There are tragedies and hardships that she manages to deftly demonstrate in their horror or sadness without overwhelming the generally upbeat tone of the book. There's romance [come on, 2 pairs of teenagers introduced at the very beginning, whaddya expect?] that is clean, intriguing, engaging, and decidedly low on schmaltz. It's very natural, not contrived. I really liked the romance, which I don't always do. The political sides are presented in a reasonably realistic manner without using the book as a platform to preach any particular political doctrine. She also manages to portray her teens as teens (unlike Stephanie Meyer, IMHO, which is my chief gripe about her books), who are both serious and want to be taken seriously, but still blindly immature or naive in other areas. The relationships between different characters go through believable ups and downs, portraying several sides of human nature that don't often get much attention. It's very well done.

Its only two, minor, drawbacks to my mind are that she sometimes foreshadows events that don't happen, which leaves one waiting for the other shoe to drop; and the claim Milo makes throughout the book and on the cover is that he "has something to say." He doesn't. He has no political agenda of his own and polls around to get his platform together. Joy asks me if that isn't just what other politicians do too? Yeah, I gotta give in on some of that, but most of the serious candidates I've studied, and especially the third- and fourth-tier candidates who haven't a chance (like Milo), have a defining policy that they really push for and believe in. The one or two times early on when he's really honest with himself, he admits it's mostly about him. On the other hand ... that sounds like believable character writing too. Milo is also honest and humble enough to give credit where it is due.

Just because of the subject matter and a couple of the difficult themes, I would recommend it largely for pre-teen and up. Freshman for President, published by Shadow Mountain, has its own fun website (, and can be purchased through Amazon. I really enjoyed reading it, and look forward to introducing it to Hyrum someday.


Grandma Jule said...

Why am *I* not one of your blogging buddies?

Derrill said...

Y'know, I was just thinking today that I hadn't updated that in a while....