Politics Are All Over YA Literature – and It’s Never Been More Important
Peter Stone | The Children’s Book Review | October 8, 2018
As a child of the Cold War era, it’s only fitting that one of my first memories is watching the Berlin Wall fall down on the evening news. The juxtaposition of sledge hammers chipping away at the cement and exploding Champagne bottles is as unforgettable for me as it was surreal at the time. I was barely in elementary school at the time, but in that moment, a political junkie was born. In the following years, I led door-to-door get-out-the-vote drives, spent my Saturdays at Speech & Debate tournaments, and mounted more than a few ill-fated student council campaigns. But it was a momentous summer internship that changed the way I see politics – both in my own life as well as in YA literature.
I interned in Congressman Gary Condit’s Capitol Hill office the summer after I graduated from a high school in Central California. It’s a cliché, but I couldn’t wait to get out of my small town and live in a big city. Washington did not disappoint. My time there was indelible – the first scary, heady, exciting taste of a world beyond home. But soon after I left, Condit was embroiled in this century’s first notorious political scandal: the murder of young staffer Chandra Levy. Seeing the news of Levy’s death, followed by the accusations of murder and the piranha feeding frenzy of the press—I saw the darker side of D.C. Condit insisted that he had nothing to do with the crime, and I am inclined to believe him. But the experience taught me larger lessons about the fallibility of heroes and the duplicity of power. And perhaps most surprising: the realization that the adolescence I was so ready to leave behind was actually wonderful in its own way—maybe even idyllic. And suddenly gone for good.
Years later, this political coming of age became the inspiration for my debut novel. The fun and the fear, the confidence and the confusion, the hope and the horror of that experience spilled out onto the page as I reminisced and wrote The Perfect Candidate. Memories flooded back, and I found that the monuments, metro stations, and cold marble hallways became characters of the story in their own right.
I also started to see political themes in many of the YA books I read. Ally Carter’s Embassy Row series and The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes are excellent thrillers that place teenage protagonists against a backdrop of shady government dealings. But the influence of politics extends beyond the DC setting: Panem of The Hunger Games features self-centered leaders whose greed could put them right at home in an Ethics Committee investigation. And Katniss Everdeen’s rebellion is not far removed from that of the German youth breaking down the Berlin Wall. The Harry Potter series is rife with political allegory: from civil disobedience to the quiet roots of fascism, it’s clear that current events weighed heavily on JK Rowling’s mind and pen. More recently, The Hate U Give is not technically a political thriller, but its critique of racism in law enforcement is scorching; and its government protest scenes are simply thrilling.
Nina Simone famously said, “An artist’s duty… is to reflect the times.” Indeed, the triumphs, tension, and moral tradeoffs of the current political landscape provide ripe inspiration for today’s YA authors – myself included. Today’s teenagers face crumbling institutions and fears that I could not have imagined during my formative summer in Washington. But they need look no further than a growing canon of politically oriented YA literature to give them an escape, an alternative, and most importantly, hope.
Written by Peter Stone
Publisher’s Synopsis: From debut author Peter Stone comes a heart-stopping, pulse-pounding political thriller that’s perfect for fans of Ally Carter and House of Cards.
When recent high school graduate Cameron Carter lands an internship with Congressman Billy Beck in Washington, DC, he thinks it is his ticket out of small town captivity. What he lacks in connections and Beltway polish he makes up in smarts, and he soon finds a friend and mentor in fellow staffer Ariel Lancaster.
That is, until she winds up dead.
As rumors and accusations about her death fly around Capitol Hill, Cameron’s low profile makes him the perfect candidate for an FBI investigation that he wants no part of. Before he knows it—and with his family’s future at stake—he discovers DC’s darkest secrets as he races to expose a deadly conspiracy.
If it doesn’t get him killed first.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | October 2, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1534422179
About the Author
Peter Stone is a lifelong fan of thrillers on the big screen, small screen, and page. Prior to his career in TV and film marketing, he worked in Washington, DC, first as an intern on Capitol Hill and later as a Spanish tutor for a former Speaker of the House. The Perfect Candidate is his debut novel. He lives in Tokyo, Japan, with his wife and two sons.
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