Time for a YA contemporary classic! (And this one is even a series.) It’s a little late for Mother’s Day, but here’s a book that has a great mother-daughter relationship at the core: The President’s Daughter, by Ellen Emerson White.
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Meghan Powers is just an ordinary girl, living an ordinary life in a suburban Boston neighborhood. She has a best friend, Beth, a boyfriend, a place on both the tennis team and the ski team, and two pesky brothers. Normal. Well, relatively normal anyway, as much as a teen can be with a mother who is the senior senator from Massachusetts. But then Meg’s mother decides to run for President, and Meg’s life is turned upside down.
Being the daughter of a presidential candidate means having her own security, media appearances and interviews. It means that Meg and her younger brothers, Steven and Neal, are suddenly in the spotlight, and have to be on their best behavior at all times. It means that kids who have been her enemies since kindergarten are trying to be her friend, and that kids who have been her friends since kindergarten are treating her differently. Even teachers are acting weird. It means dating is difficult, hanging out with friends in Boston is out of the question, and school sports competitions are almost impossible.
It’s a good thing that the Powers family talks about everything…and that Meg actually enjoys arguing politics and the technical aspects of campaigning, that she likes figuring out how the electoral college votes will go, working with her mother’s staff and helping out with her mother’s portrayal in the media. Still, it’s not like Meg thinks her mother will actually become the first female President of the United States.
But then her mother wins. And Meg will never be that suburban Boston teenager again.
Life at the White House turns out to be interesting, but now Meg has to figure out a whole new set of rules. It’s not easy being the only daughter of the first female President. Meg is treading new ground; there’s a new school, new friends, and new responsibilities. Everything is changing, and Meg’s not sure if she likes how being part of the First Family is changing her.
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The President’s Daughter was originally published in 1983; somewhere, I still have my original paperback edition. I loved Meg–she was my age, started her mix tapes with Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n Roll, could recite Brady Bunch episodes from memory, and hated that Diet Pepsi changed their formula so that she had to switch to Tab. Ms. White updated the book in 2008 to make it less conspicuously the early 80s and more timeless. I still like the original version best, but I’m definitely prejudiced on that topic! (…she said, sipping a Tab and listening to Joan Jett…)
Meg is such a likable character. She’s observant and funny. The Powers obviously love each other; they’re also a family of sports fanatics that love the Red Sox and enjoy skiing together. Her brother Steven has to be one of the coolest little brothers in YA lit; the parts where she snipes and trades one-liners with him are some of the funniest and truest moments in the book. Youngest brother Neal is sweet and innocent, but still manages to hold his own, and Beth, Meg’s best friend, is definitely a character!
Meg’s story continues in three subsequent titles: White House Autumn (which is actually my favorite in the series) where President Powers is the target of an almost-successful attempted assassination, Long Live the Queen, where Meg is kidnapped by terrorists, but has no intention of being used by them, and Long May She Reign, where Meg has to deal with the aftermath of the kidnapping, her mother’s guilt, and start her first year of college.
Even though Meg is dealing with things that most kids would never even imagine, she faces them with a clear picture of who she is and a determination to succeed. She’s not perfect; she can be mean to her brothers, obnoxious to her parents and irritating to be around for her friends. But she also tries to do the right thing, and to understand the world she lives in. Her family likes to talk about things, and they all have a very quirky, wry sense of humor. Meg faces some incredible circumstances, and struggles through tough situations with humor, some anger and grace. Will she survive intact? That’s up to the reader to decide.
So if you’re looking for a series about a smart teen in an unusual situation, try The President’s Daughter series. Meg’s life isn’t easy, but she’s definitely living in “interesting times”. Meg is 16 when the series starts, and 19 when it ends; these books are probably best suited to eighth to tenth graders, but the writing is so witty and the situation so intriguing that older teens would probably enjoy it just as much, if not more. Let me know what you think!