EW talks YA: Yes No Maybe So is the activism novel teens — and adults — need right now
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In a refreshing change from typical YA fare, the teens and tweens in Yes No Maybe So aren’t fighting vampires, being whisked away by immortal beings, or falling into messy love triangles. Instead, they’re getting involved in their local elections.
New York Times best-selling authors Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda) and Aisha Saeed (Amal Unbound) pull from their personal experiences with local activism and combine their talents to tell the story of Jamie Goldberg and Maya Rehman, two teenagers set on making a difference in their community.
Jamie loves politics and dreams of one day running for office, but his fear of public speaking holds him back. He volunteers to help when a special election for the Georgia State Senate is held, along with the less-than-enthusiastic Maya Rehman. Encouraged by her parents, Maya begrudgingly joins the campaign to fill her free time for the summer. Instead of hanging with her best friend and enjoying a previously planned family trip to Italy, she’s knocking on strangers’ doors to ask for their votes now — and emotionally preparing herself for her first Ramadan since her parents’ separation. As the summer progresses, the election heats up. So does Jamie and Maya’s relationship. The pair begin to realize they may be invested in more than just the campaign.
Yes No Maybe So is a very 2020 coming-of-age story, littered with topical references both to national politics and online culture. (Memes get a lot of play here.) Social media incites many points of conflict, and Albertalli and Saeed demonstrate an understanding of the role it plays in the formation and destruction of young people’s relationships. It’s not just GIF-sharing and text back-and-forths that Albertalli and Saeed nail, though. The authors also tap into the insecurities and anxieties of adolescence, the highs and lows of first love, and how the 2016 presidential election has shaped Generation Z’s social consciousness and aptitude for activism.
Yes No Maybe So doesn’t shy away from exploring its characters’ experiences of anti-Semitism and xenophobia. But Jamie and Maya maintain unshakeable hope that real change begins with them. Pinging back and forth between the two, Albertalli and Saeed weave together narratives of multidimensional characters who, despite their differences, find commonality and friendship in their religious upbringings, complicated family dynamics, and the belief that the personal is political.
The heart of Yes No Maybe So is its humanity. Albertalli and Saeed’s writing shines when focusing on the sparks of Jamie and Maya’s blossoming romance. Highlights also include Jamie’s wonderfully charming and calculating younger sister, Sophie, and the depiction of the sometimes strained, always loving relationships between the book’s adolescents and their parents. Albertalli and Saeed offer a delightful and humorous coming-of-age story with a positive message for teens hoping to change the world. B+