Contemporary Literature · Young Adult

The Voting Booth

I’ve had Colbert’s novel Little and Lion on my TBR for years because I’ve heard only great things about it. I still haven’t managed to get to it yet, but when I saw this one as an option as an ALC from Libro.fm, I still knew I was going to pick it to read ASAP. It’s the season for this type of civic responsibility novel and I was feeling a (hopefully uplifting, “for the future”) YA take on the concept.

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

“You are never too young for democracy.”

Marva Sheridan has been working for years lading up to this election day, canvassing and calling and registering voters, and she cannot wait to vote for the first time. Duke Crenshaw wants to get voting over with to make his family happy and then move on to the big gig his band has tonight. But when Marva sees Duke turned away at their polling place, she steps up to help him make sure his vote gets counted. Over the rest of the day, the two of them deal with myriad challenges, from registration mix-ups to runaway cats to boyfriend drama to family confrontations to interactions with police, to make sure Duke gets his chance to vote. And though it’s a long and stressful day, by the end of it, Marva and Duke realize that perhaps all the trouble was worth it, not just because Duke finally gets to vote, but also because they got to know each other better…and there’s a special sort of connection there.

Well this was an incredibly sweet and timely YA novel. I loved reading about Marva’s strength of conviction about the importance of voting and making your voice heard. It’s important for everyone, but especially for new voters, to realize that their vote truly does matter. In particular, I love how clearly Marva connects voting with the actions we can take to truly affect change in areas that we know are oppressive/suppressive in this country (like police brutality and racial profiling, access to healthcare, women’s reproductive rights, Black people having to navigate spaces in a white-dominated environment and political landscape and so many more). This direct line drawn from knowing something is wrong and wanting to affect change to how to make that change, is strong and accessible for a YA reader. Plus, a major important point throughout it that it’s important for all voters, especially those from a background of privilege, to understand that, like Marva says, even if there are parts of the system you don’t agree with, it’s a privilege to choose not to vote as a way to protest that. In addition, there is a great highlight for younger readers (and older, privileged readers) of many of the barriers to voting in this country, even though we’re taught that it’s a right for everyone and is accessible to everyone. Colbert does a lovely job highlighting voter suppression issues like not having long enough lunch hours and/or inflexible bosses and work, closed polling locations (without notice), running out of ballets or other supplies, long wait times (especially when considering other important time demands like work and picking up kids, etc.), states without same day registration, transportation challenges or restrictions, and more. All in all, the way civic responsibility is shown as a necessity from everyone and encourages especially young voters to get involved, is fantastic (and, of course, timely, as we face a huge national election coming up this November). 

As side stories go, I thought the little romance between Marva and Duke was adorable. It was wholesome and natural under the circumstances. And though we only got to see them for the one day, it unfolded in a really cute and supportive way. I also thought Marva’s cat Instagram situation was pretty funny and very relatable for a current-day audience and it added some great levity both to the story and to Marva’s very serious character. On Duke’s side, his band was also a fun situation and I enjoyed the way it grew out of him learning to drum as a coping mechanism. It allowed the story to stay pretty light while still addressing serious themes like loss of a sibling, mental health, and more. I liked that we got the story in alternating viewpoints. It was a good way to see from both Duke and Marva’s perspectives. And I enjoyed the different narrators for their sections on the audiobook; it was a nice to have clearly separate narrators (though I have to be honest and say that Marva’s narrator voice was a smidge grating, so having the break for Duke’s narrative sections was appreciated, by me, from that perspective as well.) Colbert also did really well with the pacing, considering this was a story that all happened in a single day. It moved well, but never felt rushed, and she used the “About _____” sections as a great device for filling the reader in on family and relationship backgrounds in a way that made the characters the most developed they could be, considering we only get to know them over a less than 24-hour period.

I have to be honest and say that, overall, I felt like this was a little on the juvenile side, considering the characters are both seniors in high school. I mean, I understand it’s YA, but it read, writing-wise, a bit closer to middle grade for me (minus the swearing, of course). I do read a fair amount of YA, so I feel like this is a pretty fair “in comparison to others” critique. The relationships were all chaste and most were pretty “surface-only.” That could be due to the “all in one day” way the story was told, but that didn’t feel like it to me, to be honest, it felt more like writing style choices that made it that way. It was a great intro to many important social justice and civic duty concepts, and that part being “beginner” felt fine, just…the writing itself seemed too young. It wasn’t bad writing, it just seemed juvenile for the characters and plot. And though it sucks, that kind of made me, altogether, a bit less invested in the characters and story. I mean, I still think the messages are important, the plot was a fun one, and it was a good reading experience, but it wasn’t amazing…I never jumped completely into it, as far as how much I cared.      

Despite my personal feelings about the writing/vibe, like I said, I think there is so much that is important and necessary and lovely about this book. (To that end, for “rating” purposes on Goodreads – I’m bumping this from a 3.5 to 4 star review…because it’s cute and important and while I’ve personally read YA that feels more adult than young, I also am no longer in that age group, sooooo, I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt.) I’ve never read a YA novel that highlights voting like this one and I can only hope that it helps create and spread enthusiasm to get out there and have their voices officially heard in a current (likely and reasonably disillusioned) YA-reader generation. It’s a story that must be told, needs to get out there, will *hopefully* inspire, and I would recommend it to a younger audience of readers for sure. 

So, on that note, if you aren’t yet, register to vote! And get more info on how to register, plus voting processes and requirements for your state: HERE!

10 thoughts on “The Voting Booth

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