This election-themed book list for teens has been carefully curated by Lori Goldstein, author of the Penguin Random House YA novel SOURCES SAY—a novel that tackles fake news and political rivalry in a heated student council election.
It’s been widely noted that teens today are engaged in politics and activism with knowledge, interest, and passion that seems to exceed that of recent generations. From Greta Thunberg fighting for the environment; to Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, and other Parkland survivors speaking out on gun control; to the thousands of students staging and attending Black Lives Matter protests around the country, it is clear that—even during a pandemic—teenagers are at the forefront of change.
With what many see as a critical presidential election in 2020, a new crop of young adult books has entered the race, reflecting this focus on politics and activism. Whether they tackle issues head-on or use the election as the backdrop for an engaging story—be it romance, sisterhood, or friendship—these are some of my favorite YA politically themed books to cast your ballot for and add to your fall reading list.
The Voting Booth
Written by Brandy Colbert
Publisher Synopsis: Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election?
Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight.
Only problem? Duke can’t vote.
When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn’t spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right.
And that’s how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva’s missing cat), it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.
Romantic and triumphant, The Voting Booth is proof that you can’t sit around waiting for the world to change, but some things are just meant to be.
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Ages 12+ | Publisher: Disney-Hyperion | ISBN-13: 978-1368053297
Written by Sarah Watson
Publisher Synopsis: Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha (listed in alphabetical order out of fairness) have been friends since kindergarten. Now they’re in their senior year, facing their biggest fears about growing up and growing apart. But there’s more than just college on the horizon. One of these girls is destined to become the president of the United States. The mystery, of course, is which girl gets the gig.
Is it Ava, the picture-perfect artist who’s secretly struggling to figure out where she belongs? Or could it be CJ, the one who’s got everything figured out…except how to fix her terrible SAT scores? Maybe it’s Jordan, the group’s resident journalist, who knows she’s ready for more than their small Ohio suburb can offer. And don’t overlook Martha, who will have to overcome all the obstacles that stand in the way of her dreams.
This is the story of four best friends who have one another’s backs through every new love, breakup, stumble, and success — proving that great friendships can help young women achieve anything…even a seat in the Oval Office.
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Ages 12+ | Publisher: Poppy | ISBN-13: 978-0316454834
Yes No Maybe So
Written by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
Publisher Synopsis: YES
Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state senate candidate—as long as he’s behind the scenes. When it comes to speaking to strangers (or, let’s face it, speaking at all to almost anyone) Jamie’s a choke artist. There’s no way he’d ever knock on doors to ask people for their votes…until he meets Maya.
Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend is too busy to hang out, her summer trip is canceled, and now her parents are separating. Why her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing—with some awkward dude she hardly knows—is beyond her.
Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer—and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural crush of the century is another thing entirely.
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Ages 14+ | Publisher: Balzer + Bray | ISBN-13: 978-0062937049
The State of Us
Written by Shaun David Hutchinson
Publisher Synopsis: When Dean Arnault’s mother decided to run for president, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone, least of all her son. But still that doesn’t mean Dean wants to be part of the public spectacle that is the race for the White House—at least not until he meets Dre.
The only problem is that Dre Rosario’s on the opposition; he’s the son of the Democratic nominee. But as Dean and Dre’s meet-ups on the campaign trail become less left to chance, their friendship quickly becomes a romantic connection unlike any either of the boys have ever known.
If it wasn’t hard enough falling in love across the aisle, the political scheming of a shady third-party candidate could cause Dean and Dre’s world to explode around them.
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Ages 13+ | Publisher: HarperTeen | ISBN-13: 978-0062950314
Written by Natalia Sylvester
Publisher Synopsis: Senator Anthony Ruiz is running for president. Throughout his successful political career he has always had his daughter’s vote, but a presidential campaign brings a whole new level of scrutiny to sheltered fifteen-year-old Mariana and the rest of her Cuban American family, from a 60 Minutes–style tour of their house to tabloids doctoring photos and inventing scandals. As tensions rise within the Ruiz family, Mari begins to learn about the details of her father’s political positions, and she realizes that her father is not the man she thought he was.
But how do you find your voice when everyone’s watching? When it means disagreeing with your father—publicly? What do you do when your dad stops being your hero? Will Mari get a chance to confront her father? If she does, will she have the courage to seize it?
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Ages 12+ | Publisher: Clarion Books | ISBN-13: 978-0358124351
You Say It First
Written by Katie Cotugno
Publisher Synopsis: One conversation can change everything.
Meg has her entire life set up perfectly: she and her best friend, Emily, plan to head to Cornell together in the fall, and she works at a voter registration call center in her Philadelphia suburb. But everything changes when one of those calls connects her to a stranger from small-town Ohio.
Colby is stuck in a rut, reeling from a family tragedy and working a dead-end job. The last thing he has time for is some privileged rich girl preaching the sanctity of the political process. So he says the worst thing he can think of and hangs up.
But things don’t end there. That night on the phone winds up being the first in a series of candid, sometimes heated, always surprising conversations that lead to a long-distance friendship and then—slowly—to something more. Across state lines and phone lines, Meg and Colby form a once-in-a-lifetime connection. But in the end, are they just too different to make it work?
You Say It First is a propulsive, layered novel about how sometimes the person who has the least in common with us can be the one who changes us most.
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Ages 13+ | Publisher: Balzer + Bray | ISBN-13: 978-0062674128
About Lori Goldstein
Lori Goldstein earned her BA in journalism but eventually found her true writing passion in the world of fictional people. She’s never met a beach she didn’t love, a book she wouldn’t read, or a strange food she wouldn’t try. She is the author of SOURCES SAY (9/8/2020), which Kirkus calls “Entertaining, thought-provoking, and heartwarming”; SCREEN QUEENS, which Kirkus calls “a fun and uplifting story that celebrates female friendship and empowerment”; and the VOYA-starred young adult contemporary fantasy series BECOMING JINN.
You can visit her online at www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com, @loriagoldstein on Twitter, and on Instagram @lorigoldsteinbooks.
Written by Lori Goldstein
Publisher’s Synopsis: Two exes. One election. All the drama.
For fans of Becky Albertalli and Morgan Matson comes a funny, hearfelt novel about fueding exes running for class president and the scandal that makes the previously boring school election the newest trending hashtag.
At Acedia High School outside of Boston, student council has always been nothing more than a popularity contest. Nobody pays attention. Nobody cares.
But all that changes when the Frankengirls show up. During the very first week of school, someone plasters the halls with Photoshopped images of three “perfect tens”–images of scantily clad girls made from real photos of girls at school. The student body is livid. And the two presidential candidates, Angeline Quinn and Leo Torres, jump on the opportunity to propose their solutions and secure votes. After their messy break up, Leo and Angie are fighting tooth and nail to win this thing and their constituents are mesmerized as they duke it out.
As if things couldn’t be more dramatic, the school’s two newspapers get involved. The Red & Blue is run by Angie’s sister Cat and she prides herself on only reporting the facts. But her morals are tested when The Shrieking Violet–written by an anonymous source and based less on facts and more on fiction–blatantly endorses Leo. Rumors fly, secrets are leaked, and the previously mundane student election becomes anything but boring.
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Ages 12+ | Publisher: Razorbill | ISBN-13: 978-0593117408
Election-Themed Books for Teens was curated by Lori Goldstein, Sources Say. Discover more books like the titles in this article by following along with our reviews and articles tagged with Books For Teens, Elections, Lori Goldstein, Politics, and Young Adult Fiction.