I am a big fan of YA novels. Adults reading YA tends to get a bad rap because we’re seen as reading “childrens books“, that they’re not deep or nuanced enough to be counted as real literature. My thought on the matter is that the way that there are shallow cotton-candy type of books for adults (pick up nearly any chick-lit book or thrillers in the vein of The Da Vinci Code), and no one is shortlisting these picks for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Similarly, not all YA books are created the same. You have your fluffy trash that’s fun to read but is only passing time and putting other worlds in your head, and then there’s the crème de la crème. Books that are complex, and deeply moving, and with a message or just a lasting impression that makes you think more about the world when you’re in it. These are the kind of books that win the Newbery Medal (an award nearly as old as the Pulitzer in fiction), or else are on the shortlist and earn themselves a Newbery Honor designation. Today’s book is a Newbery Honor book, and I have to say…pretty darn good.
Hope Was Here tells the story of Hope (surprise!) who lives with her aunt, and when the diner in Brooklyn where they work is suddenly closed due to some shady dealings by the owner, they take up the offer to run a diner in small-town Wisconsin, with Aunt Addie as the head cook, and Hope as part-time waitress. They take over the daily business of the place from G.T. Stoop (who has leukemia), who then makes the announcement at a Memorial Day event that he’s decided to run for mayor to try and oust the corrupt incumbant mayor Eli Millstone. The story that follows is one where young people rally around a beloved older to try and encourage voters to open their eyes to the political corruption and corporate machinations happening in their small town.
It was weird to read this book right now in our political season. I could easily see G.T. as a kind of Bernie Sanders figure, though the students who support his cause are younger and more low-tech in their methods of support (as the book was written in 2000 – just at the dawn of the internet age, but not at a time when it was so intrinsic to our lives). Millstone and his deference to the big dairy conglomerate could be the a metaphor for any politician these days who is beholden to special interest groups at the expense of their constituency. And while it would feel easy to make more connections between this book written 16 years ago and what’s happening now, I think it can only really serve as a lesson for political turmoil: you must look closely at a candidate. See where their money is coming from. See how they vote in relation to that money’s interests. See if they really hold values similar to yours, or if their views are malleable based on who the public wants them to be.
In conclusion, vote your interests (heck – VOTE! It’s super important, and something that makes a huge difference in the plot of this book), and don’t let anyone tell you that just because a book is about a teenager, or because it’s written with a teenage audience in mind that it is not good enough.
Details: Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer, first published 2000 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers