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Dear Rachel Maddow

February 27, 2019

I read Dear Rachel Maddow, by Adrienne Kisner, because when I saw it at the library I remembered reading about it at How Useful It Is.

It’s an entirely epistolary novel, which is always fun, especially in a Young Adult novel, where perspective is all. I’ve never watched Rachel Maddow, not because I disagree with her politics but because I don’t watch television (although I will watch excerpts on YouTube, especially SNL openings).

The protagonist is a 17-year-old girl named Brynn. Some of her writing isn’t very good, particularly the part about why her mother hasn’t loved her since her older brother Nick died and the mother remarried. Maybe this is because Brynn’s ideas about why are not the focus of the letter; her perspective on her mother is often related so briefly it feels like caricature: “babies are supposed to be cut off from the mom and then both of them get to be separate people. That didn’t happen with Mom and Nick.”

Other parts are really well-written, especially the letters that Brynn’s teacher Mr. Grimm comments on. I love his teacherly admonitions, like on her description of where she lives as “East Bumblefuck, Pennsyltucky” he asks “what is another way you could describe our rural, economically depressed region?”

The heart of the story is how Brynn becomes politically active at her school, inspired by watching and writing letters to Rachel Maddow. She begins by standing up to the “current SGA vice president and unbearable human being” who confronts her in the cafeteria, asking “does it bother you that presidential authority goes unchecked these days, and that we are basically fighting a third world war and barely even a peep, a peep I tell you, is heard from Congress?”

There’s a part where Brynn asks the question I’ve been wanting to ask since the U.S. midterm elections: “how does no one care?” And the answer she gets, from an older woman who works with her is “because people don’t, Brynn. Not really. Until they do….Caring for caring’s sake isn’t typical. People only start to care when something affects them personally.” When Brynn protests “but this does affect them,” referring to a committee to pick a new school superintendent, the answer is “maybe. But that’s hard to see. Only if something hurts them or makes them sad or pisses them off does it really sink it. And this new superintendent thing seems far removed from their everyday lives….And I know this person could make policies that will make life worse little by little, or even by a lot for students. And then maybe students will complain and say it’s so unfair that somebody somewhere did this. And then, if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll realize that they could have done something but didn’t, so it’s kinda on them.” Brynn comments “that was so…not what I wanted to hear. It was like a bad day on your show, when the bad news piled up.”

When Brynn decides to run for student body president and an ad featuring her as a zombie is aired at her school, she writes to Rachel Maddow about it saying “youth political involvement is not dead, Rachel. It is seriously, seriously, undead.”

Everything is not solved by Brynn’s political involvement. There are plot twists involving her home situation, her friends, her ex, and her new girlfriend, and she doesn’t triumph over every bit of adversity in the end. But she does end by thanking Rachel Maddow “for your optimism and passion. Even if you don’t always feel it, you demonstrate it.”

That’s a good reminder for adults, both young and old.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2019 11:08 am

    We don’t watch much TV but Carl watches Rachel Maddow fairly often. We joke that she’s his girlfriend. I need to pick this book up.

    • February 28, 2019 9:49 pm

      I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s a quick and easy read.

  2. February 27, 2019 11:45 am

    I’m happy you read a book I recently read! I didn’t realize Rachel Maddow is a real TV person. I don’t watch TV either, but at least you know she’s real. I thought it’s a fiction book so she must be fiction hahaha.. I love Mr. Grimm too. His advice is so fulfilling. I notice you don’t give a star rating to your book review. From your review, I feel you are around 4 stars? 🙂

    • February 28, 2019 9:52 pm

      I enjoyed reading the book and felt a little better about the state of the world afterwards, so that’s pretty high praise from me. I don’t give star ratings on reviews because I do enough grading and want to talk about books without having to establish standards and say which book is better than which other book. Most of them have something good in them–I want to highlight the good parts and warn you off if there are parts I didn’t care for. Since my reviews are written from a personal point of view, I don’t want to mix that with a rating system, which implies some degree of objectivity.

      • March 4, 2019 11:20 am

        Well I’m glad you enjoyed the read even though there isn’t any necromancy in it haha.. now I know you do read more than necromancy related books 🙂

  3. February 27, 2019 4:13 pm

    I also watch Rachel Maddow mostly via youtube! Youtube is pretty amazing – you don’t have to stay up late or watch something until you are ready!

    • February 28, 2019 9:54 pm

      Exactly. I’ve never been able to remember to watch tv at a certain day and time. It’s great to have opportunities to watch what’s good after it “airs,” to the extent anything is on live anymore.

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