I read a lot of YA fiction. I was a big book nerd growing up (huge Percy Jackson fan), and as I transitioned into reading more adult-level novels, I found myself missing the optimism and often very well wrapped-up, perfect endings of young adult fiction. Books intended for an older age group often focus on more adult themes, and their overall outlook isn’t always happy or positive. I wanted to find a book that was able to strike a balance between both worlds, something that was a little more fun and didn’t take itself too seriously, but also acknowledged that life isn’t always easy. Adrienne Kinser’s Dear Rachel Maddow proves to strike that balance.
Sixteen-year-old high school student Brynn Harper has a lot going on. She is simultaneously dealing with her brother’s death, an abusive family environment, slipping grades, and a breakup with her girlfriend. The only constant in her life is Rachel Maddow, who became her celebrity hero after Brynn discovered how much watching her show pissed off her mom. She gets an assignment in English class to write to a celebrity, and who better to air all her frustrations to than Rachel Maddow? As things at school and home become even messier and complicated, Brynn asks herself, what would Rachel Maddow do?
In an interview with Book Riot, Kinser says that she doesn’t think of main character Brynn as a pessimist, but that she’s a realist. “Her favorite thing to do is watch the national news, so this reinforces the idea that Things Are Bad and Don’t Change. Because of this, she tries desperately not to care and fails every time.” Kinser adds that she found the character of Brynn to be “relentlessly hopeful.”
This book touches on some darker themes, including addiction, loss, and abuse. But even when the subject matter is grim, the story still retains a level of hope. What I liked most about this book was how it treated its audience: as complicated people who don’t just want a completely happy or totally sad story. Dear Rachel Maddow is real, something that many YA novels aren’t.
In the end, Brynn doesn’t necessarily persevere by conventional standards. But she doesn’t quit or give up, which is what she previously believed she was best at. She proves to herself that even if she doesn’t always win, the effort is still worth it. The ending of the story isn’t quite perfect, but no real endings ever are. There are plenty of great YA books with picture-perfect endings, but they aren’t real. They’re great for escapism purposes and can be inspiring, but not a whole lot else.
Brynn is complicated, and so are the people around her. Nothing is black and white, which again reflects the realness the book has to offer its readers. In most underdog stories, the underdog always wins. Brynn proves that doesn’t have to be the case, and it doesn’t need to be either.
Cover image via YA Interrobang.
Also published on Medium.