Book Series Review: All-American Girl: Because Not All Issue Books Have to be Dark (Apparently)

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Spoilers ahoy!

All-American Girl and its sequel Ready or Not provide Meg Cabot with a lively soapbox from which she can preach her views on politics.  The heroine of these books is Samantha Madison, a D.C. resident, who finds herself saving the president from an assassination attempt and subsequently becomes teen ambassador to the U.N. and the girlfriend of the president’s son, all while dealing with the tribulations of the life and high school of an average American teen girl.  Sam, a vocal teen, who in the first book hankers for the life of a jaded rebel, at least once per book finds herself at odds with the president’s policies, and Cabot, taking advantage of her character’s voice, I must assume, voices her protestations.

The premise is interesting, and the books are much more fun reads than most teen issue books, being fluffy, fun, and quick.  Cabot chooses one topic per book and focuses her efforts on it, and these issues are less melancholy than frequent topics of teen issue books (rape, suicide, etc.).

Both of these books focus on the rights of teens and the government’s attempts to sabotage those rights.  In All-American Girl, Sam’s chosen winner of an art contest of which she is judge is at odds with the white-washed version of America that the government wants to portray, Sam’s choice being a painting of illegal immigrants sneaking across the border rather than a scenic lighthouse.  Sam learns the value, through art classes that come to reflect her life, of seeing versus knowing.

In the second, the president wants to push a focus on the family.  This new initiative includes a law that requires pharmacists and clinics to notify parents when children purchase any form of birth control.  This comes to light as Sam is struggling with her belief that the president’s son, her boyfriend, has asked her to have sex with him over Thanksgiving.  Sam learns the benefit of communication between families and between partners as well as a focus on the whole working as a unit rather than individual parts.

Ready or Not reminds me to warn those who know the white-washed Meg Cabot of The Princess Diaries films that that is not Meg Cabot.

Stylistically, these books are a little awkward.  The messages of Sam’s art lessons being forced forward into the real world seems, well, forced.  The inclusion of top ten lists breaks the text, though by the second book, I was enjoying the breaks rather than finding them awkward.  Last, some of the sentences really did read awkwardly and could have been helped by further or correct punctuation (ex: “And I also realize that actually?  It really doesn’t matter.”  Here, I would have used a comma in place of the question mark, making a complete thought instead of a fragment and statement, and this not maybe the best, most awkwardly phrased example.).  I understand that Cabot is going for a conversational prose but firmly believe that written text needs to be punctuated as written text not as transcribed dialogue whenever possible.  I know it’s a personal peeve, but I’m sure some others will share it too.

I didn’t dislike these books, but nor would I consider them favorites.  My dislike of the writing style and the forced lessons hurt them greatly.

***

Cabot, Meg.  All-American Girl.  New York: Harper Trophy-Harper Collins, 2002.

Cabot, Meg.  Ready or Not.  New York: Harper Teen-Harper Collins, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by Meg Cabot, Harper Trophy, Harper Teen, or Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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