Thursday, August 5, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The President's Daughter'

The Book: The President's Daughter (Book One in the The President's Daughter series)

The Author: Ellen Emerson White

How I Found It: I've been becoming more interested in politics-related fiction since I started watching The West Wing this summer, and I was curious to read this once I started reading about the series.

The Review: Senator Katharine Vaughn Powers has a proposition, one she makes to her daughter after a round of tennis: she wants to run for President of the United States. Meg, the daughter, is confounded by this, not sure why her mother would make this decision when she is already away from home enough. Her mother's work has put near-constant strain on her brothers, her father, and herself, and one of Meg's only wishes is that her mother could have been an English teacher or someone with a more "normal" job. But Meg's mother thinks she might be able to win the race for President, and she comes to the decision that she will run.

Since the outcome of the race is pretty much a given from the book's title, I don't know how much more of a summary I can give! A review I read considered the title itself a spoiler, but given that the series wouldn't be much of a series if Kate had lost the race, I don't consider it one. The first half of the book concerns Kate's campaign and the second half concerns life in the White House, with much emphasis in both halves placed on the effect of this life on Meg, her brothers Steven and Neal, and her father Russell.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the books, originally written and published in the 1980s, were revised in 2008 so they could be rereleased with a newly published fourth book that was set in the present day rather than the eighties. I didn't read the 1980s version; I decided to read the modern-day version simply because I think it's a better choice to set it now than to have it set in the 1980s. Many adult readers who'd read the series as young girls seemed to be annoyed that Meg's habit of watching 1980s television was changed to her watching those series on DVD, and that the book's updates included cell phones and texting. I think, though, that some of these updates appeared more effective and easier to believe. Meg's biggest concern over going out in public is that anything she does could potentially become a publicity nightmare for her mother. It's easier to believe the threat posed by ubiquitous cell phone cameras and such than it is to believe, for me, that someone would, say, whip out a huge camcorder. It's more interesting, to me, to read about how Meg feels reading a blogger's opinion on her mother, given that the Internet opens up far more avenues of communication. Meg's concerns about privacy and publicity seemed more valid in the Internet age, and the idea of a woman President is certainly more plausible today.

My one criticism of an otherwise interesting book was that the plotting seemed very thin. Basically, it's about the campaign and White House life and nothing more. Since we know the outcome of the race has to be a win, there's no real suspense, and thus I couldn't truly feel the surprise and shock of the characters. Meg's dating and friendship foibles are nothing particularly original for anyone who's ever watched or read about the offspring of any celebrity, but it was an interesting perspective to show that even a politician's child can have pesky teachers and power-playing friends. Meg's emotions were realistic; from what I understand, the author was in college when she wrote the first three books, so I think that explains it pretty well. I fully believed Meg's teenage voice.

The most realistic aspect of the book, to me, was its centerpiece, Meg's relationship with her mother. The book raises an interesting point; Steven and Neal, Meg's brothers, will simply be known as the children of the first female President, whereas Meg, as the daughter of that President, will always have to live up to something. Meg experiences frustration over her mother's constant absences and insecurity over her mother's beauty, poise, and confidence. While my mother's and my relationship is nowhere near as strained as Meg's is with her mother, I think any teenage girl with a mother will be able to relate to this story no question! Meg and her mother have the same arguments about clothes, boys, and any number of other things that a normal mother and daughter would have, and there's a touching conversation where they wonder if they love or hate each other. Meg's complex relationship with her mother is, I know, a continuing storyline in the series, and I'm eager to see how it develops in the next three books.

The book succeeds, as good speculative fiction should, at considering what the new protocol would have to be for a female President. I was amused at little touches, such as Russell becoming "The First Gentleman" and the exploration of how that affected him. The scenario was very plausibly done and I'm interested to see how life in the White House is presented in the next books.

Overall, I'd recommend this one to any teenager (or a teenager-at-heart adult) looking for an interesting politics-related read, or to someone who's interested in West Wing-esque fiction.

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