The Voting Booth
Stellar prose, a fascinating hero and a deep dive into contemporary issues make The Voting Booth an intriguing young adult read.
Political enthusiast Marva Sheridan has been looking forward to this election day – the first one she can vote in – almost her whole life. She gets up extra early and is the first in line at her polling place. Her passion extends far beyond her own vote, though. She’s spent months “text banking, canvassing and visiting senior centers” to get people registered. She’s also spent hours researching – and discussing – the issues and candidates on various websites. Which makes her boyfriend Alec’s betrayal especially infuriating. They had done all that together and now he’s decided not to vote because “the two party system is antiquated and useless”. She refuses to let it ruin her moment. She also refuses to text or talk to him till she receives some kind of decent explanation for his sudden lack of civic interest.
Duke Crenshaw just wants to cast his vote and get on with his life. “There are no jokes when it comes to politics in my house. Just nonstop talk about candidates and policies and campaigns” he tells us. But for Duke, this vote is about family, not the system. Politics was his dead brother Julian’s passion and for his mom, supporting his brother’s interests is the last link they have to him. Which makes Duke’s being turned away at the polling place a very big deal.
Marva has already cast her vote when she sees Duke being turned away. She immediately springs into action, questioning the volunteers as to why it is happening and offering to help Duke fix the problem. He almost refuses – he has school that day and he figures he can deal with this dilemma afterwards. But the temptation to spend time with the beautiful, passionate Marva is one he can’t ignore and he finds himself skipping so he can get to know his fascinating new friend.
Sometimes it’s easier to open up to complete strangers than those we love and that’s exactly what winds up happening here. Duke and Marva’s conversations are painfully honest and intensely personal, letting our hero and heroine understand each other better than many couples do even after months of being together. The fact that they are complete strangers who will only ever have to see each other again if they choose to means that they’re more their authentic selves during their encounter than is typical in relationships, which gives them rare insight into themselves and into each other.
Marva and Duke are both going through big moments in their lives. Voting might be their first official adult activity but they’ve reached the age where they are facing a lot of those moments. Julian’s death has forced Duke to realize that focusing on the people around him is what really matters. I loved this aspect of his personality since it doesn’t just make him thoughtful and emotionally mature but means that he doesn’t just respond hormonally to his interest in Marva but slows down enough to give it thought. He’s careful to weigh what it would mean to be with her and think through whether or not that is something he wants to do. Marva has spent the last two years in a near perfect relationship that she is starting to question. Weeks before, she and her white boyfriend Alec had agreed on the colleges they would be applying to, and then he had gone behind her back to send an application to a university at which she had been treated to painfully racist behavior during a summer pre-college program. It was something of which he was very aware, since many of their phone conversations during that time had been spent with her literally sobbing about the issue. The fact that he doesn’t talk to her about his application, nor seems to consider how she would feel about visiting him in such a place, followed by his dismissal of voting, has her wondering if she’s clinging to a bond which is already broken. At the very least it seems he is sending a message that what matters to her isn’t necessarily a priority to him. Realizing that makes her appreciate how much Duke seems to listen to her and care about her feelings, which has her thinking that maybe she needs to reassess her idea of what constitutes a good relationship.
Duke loved his brother but he doesn’t love that Julian’s death has become such a focal point in his own life. Julian’s “name always seems to be on the tip of (his) mom’s tongue” and while a lot of things changed after his brother died, his dad is:
the biggest change of all. He wasn’t always so irritated and impatient and his temper wasn’t always so quick.
The changes to his parents’ personalities, the recent implosion of their marriage, and the fact that people treat him differently once they learn of the tragedy have caused him a lot of anxiety. His therapist recommended taking up a hobby and that’s the one thing that has worked really well for him lately. Becoming a drummer and forming a band called Drugstore Sorrow has focused his anxious energy into something positive but that too has recently become a source of stress. He and band manager Kendall have a history that is causing problems in their present and he isn’t sure he can handle more problems.
Speaking of problems, I had one with this tale. My complaint isn’t about any one aspect of it – every individual facet is well handled – but about the multiplicity of aspects that are crammed into this one day relationship. There are the voting issues, political issues, issues with Duke’s sister, issues with Marva’s beloved missing pet, issues with significant people in their lives, their growing romance as other relationships fell apart – I felt overwhelmed by it all. I would have preferred the author kept the focus on the romance and politics or spread the story over a longer period of time. Crammed into such a tight timeline, the book felt, well, overbooked.
Not problems but issues worth noting are that this is very much a YA book and that the politics of the story are liberal. Adult readers may be turned off by the youthfulness of the tale and conservative readers may not enjoy the one sided look at the political issues.
A little more concentration on any one of its myriad plot lines and a little less action would have left me a more satisfied reader. In spite of its flaws, I think fans of the author will still enjoy this tale and teens in the political bubble The Voting Booth was written for will appreciate it as well.